How to Cure a “Blue Christmas” for Seniors

Posted by Kia Crawford on December 11th, 2015 in Education, Holidays, Mind, Spirit | No Comments

Christmas LightsThe holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, togetherness and caring for those around us. But for many seniors, the holiday season is anything but that. Many seniors find themselves dreading the holidays as they approach, and rather than taking joy in them, they find themselves feeling sad and alone—even with family around. This effect is known as “Blue Christmas.”

There are many causes of Blue Christmas. It can be because a senior can’t fully participate in holiday traditions (like decorating their house), because it reminds them of times past that will not come again, or simply because it underscores a loneliness they feel every day. It can range from a wistful, sad feeling to full-on depression. And this sense of isolation can affect far more than their happiness; it can affect their health.

How Isolation Affects Seniors

Many seniors experience a sense of isolation through the year. They may rarely leave their house, they may not have as many friends as they once did, or their family may simply not have enough time to spend with them. This routine loneliness becomes stark in contrast to the holiday cheer around them.

The cost of this loneliness is very real. There are three important facts you should know about how isolation affects your older loved ones:

  1. Seniors who feel isolated don’t live as long. According to the study A Review of Social Isolation, isolation directly leads to increased risk of mortality across all causes, including increased dementia, re-hospitalization after a health emergency, and dangerous falls. Loneliness shortens lives.
  2. Isolation is common. The same study finds that than 40 percent seniors who live outside of a senior living community — i.e., “on their own” — suffer from social isolation.
  3. It’s hard to notice. Many family members do not notice when a senior loved one feels isolated. They may mistake the common signs, such as crankiness and a lack of desire to do anything, as just part of “old age.”

That means that it’s important to pay attention to these signs in your own loved ones and evaluate whether independent living is still a good fit for them.

How We Overcome Isolation

Clearly, living in an assisted living community is a good first step in breaking down isolation. It surrounds a senior with others of their own age, as well as caring staff members. But at Dogwood Forest, we don’t take for granted that just being in a group setting will cure loneliness. We pay attention to each resident individually, and have programs in place to help them feel a sense of togetherness, and value as a human being.

These include:

  1. Community living. Nothing helps seniors overcome isolation like chances to get out in the community and engage with the world around them. We have regular shopping trips, seasonal outings, and transportation to places of worship. We also bring in guest speakers so that the outside world is part of their immediate community.
  2. Creating a sense of purpose. Having a sense of purpose in life contributes to numerous positive health outcomes. It also helps overcome isolation. We help our residents cultivate a sense of purpose in many ways: with “pet therapy” (getting to care for and play with pets), philanthropic activities and in-house spiritual programs.
  3. Positive self-image. Nothing makes a person feel isolated like not believing they look good. Personal grooming is a huge part of that, and we help seniors get groomed and dressed so that they feel put together and confident.
  4. An easy-to-navigate environment. Every inch of Dogwood Forest is designed to be mobility-friendly and ergonomic, so that there are no physical barriers to participation.
  5. Lots of personal attention. Staff at Dogwood Forest know residents by name and take the time to have personal interactions. It feels like a real community where everyone is valued.

How does your older loved one feel about the holiday season? What do you do to help them feel included and together?