We all like to think that everybody's happy and joyous at this time of the year. I mean it's the holidays after all! Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, this is a time of joy and a season of giving. How could you not be happy?
But the truth is, there are a lot of people who are very depressed and sad during the holidays. They may have lost a loved one and mourn that loss more deeply during the holiday festivities. An elderly or disabled person may have lost a lot of their independence. With that loss comes grieving also.
Many elderly people are shut-ins. They are no longer able to drive or have limited driving abilities. Being disconnected from others, especially at this time of year can cause sadness and depression. Here are some things you can do to help.
Pick Up the Phone
Call often, if you know an elderly person who is a shut-in or unable to get out. During the holiday season step those calls up and call more often. Just a few minutes daily can make a huge difference in someone's life. Everyone can spare a few minutes to brighten someone’s day. If you live far away, talk to their minister. Find out if Mom’s church has a program that reaches out to homebound seniors. Ask them to put mom on the list. Encourage other family members to call also.
“Mom has dementia,” Bob told me. “It is hard to carry on a conversation with her. In fact, it can be rather painful. Sometimes she talks so softly I cannot even hear her. I hate to admit it but I haven’t called her lately.”
Bob is not alone. Sometimes the problem is dementia but it may also be hearing loss. On top of that, mom's world has probably become very small. As such, she doesn't quite know what to stay. Additionally, it is common for a lot of people to lose strength in their voices. They may speak so softly that you have to strain to hear what they are saying.
And the truth is - it can be uncomfortable.
The adult child or the grandchild is used to Mom or Dad sounding and acting a certain way. When their abilities start to fail that can be heartbreaking for everyone. But the truth is you still love them. You want to help but just may not be sure how to do that.
How to Have a Pleasant Conversation
Talk about things that you are doing. Chances are your aging parents still want to know that you're okay. They want to hear about your life. Make the call short so it doesn't become uncomfortable for either one of you. But make the calls regular. 5 minutes every day is not much to ask. Mom will have something to look forward to, even if it is just for a few minutes. It will give her confirmation that you have not forgotten her and you do still love her. In Mom’s world that is everything.
Have Dad’s Hearing Checked
Loss of hearing can really cause someone to feel shut out from the world. This, in turn, can easily spiral into depression. Getting a hearing test and hearing aids can make a huge difference.
Additionally, there are products that may be covered by Medicare to help you hear better. A captioning service on your phone can display what someone is saying in large print text as they are speaking. Companies like Clear Captions and CapTel offer this type of service. It could make a huge difference in communication especially if the senior you love has a hearing problem. Being able to hear and understand what the other person is saying will mean that Mom or Dad can communicate again and really have a conversation.
Nothing lights up the face of an elderly person more than to see a child that lives far away. If your parent is computer savvy you're probably already doing this. But what happens if your parent is not very computer savvy?
A Caregiver Can Help
A good option is to have a caregiver set up the call for them. You could have a set time every week that you have a conversation with Mom or Dad. The caregiver could set up the video call and hand your parent the iPad so they can see your face and talk to you in real time. What a gift!
“I started doing video chatting with Mom a couple of months ago. Angela, her caregiver calls me and then hands the iPad to Mom. It's great! I love seeing her face and it makes me feel like I'm doing more for her. We usually do it around lunch time. That way she's eating her lunch and I'm eating mine. We call it our lunch date. We have fun comparing what we're eating. That gives us something to talk about. We do the calls twice a week. Angela says she lives for those calls. Living 2 States away from Mom, it really helps me to be more connected.” Bob
Bring Goodies and Treats
If you are in town drop by every week or two with a surprise basket. Homemade goodies are great but you don't have time to make them it's okay to purchase something. And it doesn't have to be a whole lot. You can even add a few flowers to the basket, something they can enjoy all week long even after the goodies are gone. Try to spend at least a half an hour enjoying a treat and visiting. A basket full of goodies can really brighten someone’s day.
If you live out of town send cards. Physical cards, not just emails, not just text, but physical cards. It can make such a difference to get something in the mail! For some reason, receiving mail always brightens somebody's day.
Try to send one card at least once a week. You can even use a service like Send Out Cards to create the cards online and sign them with your personal signature. Make sure you add a personal message. Send Out Cards will take care of stamping and mailing the cards. You can even add a gift card to a coffee shop. That way Mom and her caregiver or a friend can enjoy a treat out. You can set this all up once a month for the whole month. It will give Mom or Dad something to look forward to. This is such a simple thing to do and really doesn't take that much time.
Everyone Wants to Be Included
Mom may tell you she doesn't want to go or she just doesn't feel like it. But try to include her in your festivities and activities. Even if she says she doesn’t feel like coming. Don't give her an option.
Just tell her, “Hey Mom I'm coming to pick you up. We're going to do something fun today. Put on your pink sweater that looks so pretty on you and let's go.”
When someone is depressed they need to be included and they need to be encouraged. Keeping an upbeat manner around them will help. Letting them know how much you appreciate them and want to be around them will also help with the depression. Everyone needs to feel needed and wanted.
Lift Depression with Healthy Food
According to Web MD nutritionists report that foods can help you feel better or worse. This is true in both the short-term and the long-term.
Studies show that are heart-healthy diet, one that is high in fiber and low in saturated fat is a great place to start boosting your mood. High-fat and high-glycemic food can make you feel physically and mentally exhausted. Think about how you feel after that big turkey dinner. We blame it on the turkey a lot of times. But the truth is, all the extra carbs- the potatoes, the dressing and the deserts have a lot to do with how we feel afterward.
What Foods Will Help?
B vitamins have been shown to be really good at helping combat stress and lift. Meats, fish, poultry, and dairy along with beans & greens will help you get enough of the B vitamins especially folic acid and vitamin B12.
Of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables should be in everyone's diet. Additionally, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, oatmeal, brown rice, and seafood may supply you with needed selenium.
WebMD reports that one study evaluated depression scores of elderly people whose daily diet was supplemented with 200 micrograms of selenium a day or placebo. The group taking selenium had higher amounts of selenium circulating in their blood. They also showed significant decreases in their depression symptoms.
The truth is, it certainly can't hurt to eat a balanced diet with plenty of real food. Things like whole grains fruits and vegetables lean meats chicken and fish have been shown time and again to help improve health. There certainly doesn't seem to be any adverse effects to eating a healthy diet. Before changing someone’s diet, however, speak with your doctor. If you are diabetic or on certain medications there may be some “healthy” foods you need to avoid.
So, The Question Is - How Do You Get Someone to Eat a Healthy Diet?
An elderly parent living alone may not feel much like cooking. Let’s face it, going to the grocery store and shopping for one is just not much fun. Cooking for one can also become a challenge. So, for a lot of seniors, it is just easier to eat a sandwich or a bowl of cereal.
Bringing in a caregiver to help could solve the problem.
A care companion can help plan healthy meals. Additionally, they can go shopping and help you prepare a healthy diet. Eating alone is no fun either. Preparing meals and eating together with a care companion will ensure Mom gets a more balanced diet.
Healthy meals may be able to be prepared weekly and frozen into small portions. That way when the caregiver is not there, the portions can be easily heated in the microwave. This could be a great time for a video chat. Having that video chat with Mom as she eats her dinner can help ensure she is getting the needed nutrition.
Depression can hit at any age. The elderly are especially vulnerable. Probably because they have suffered so much loss already. Do something to help lift someone else's spirits this year. It may just lift your spirits as well. However, if the depression does not seem to be lifting don’t hesitate to call the doctor. Medications can sometimes be the cause and may need to be changed or adjusted. A doctor can evaluate whether the depression needs to be treated.