Holiday Blues - Depression among the Elderly

November 11, 2013 - By the NCPC

Authors: Valerie Michel Buck & the National Care Planning Council

EldercareThe holiday season offers many opportunities to spend quality time with family and friends. If you are a caregiver or family member of an aging loved one, you may observe a change in their mood or behavior during the holidays. You may notice unusual signs of fatigue or sadness or perhaps limited interest in the holiday season.

The winter holiday season (and the colder months which accompany it) can intensify feelings of sadness which aging seniors often experience. Most often it is not the holiday itself that cause these types of emotions among the elderly, rather the fact that the holidays tend to bring memories of earlier, perhaps happier times.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also termed winter depression, winter blues, summer depression, summer blues, or seasonal depression, was originally considered a mood disorder among those with normal mental health throughout most of the year who experience depressive symptoms at a certain time of year. Recently, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, SAD is no longer classified as a unique mood disorder, rather as a specifier for a recurrent major depressive disorder called "with seasonal pattern" that occurs only during a specific time of year and fully remits thereafter. [1] Although initially skeptical, experts now recognize this condition as common disorder, with prevalence among adults ranging from 1.4% in Florida to as many as 9.7% in New Hampshire. [2]

The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that:

"some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up [3] ... The condition in the summer can include heightened anxiety." [4]

Remember to consider SAD as a possible condition your aging loved might be experiencing, even if your loved one is living in a warm geographical area. In any case, the question on our minds should be how can I "light" up their lives and help with the situation?

What causes depression in the elderly?

Depression can be caused by a minor or serious medical problem; chronic pain or complications of an illness; memory loss; poor diet; loss of a spouse, close friend or companion; a move to a care facility; lack of exercise; change in routine; general frustrations with aging. Symptoms to look for include:

How do you know if your loved one is dealing with depression or dementia?

Depression and dementia share similar symptoms. A recent article from gives some specific differences:

In depression there is a rapid mental decline, but memory of time, date and awareness of the environment remains. Motor skills are slow, but normal in depression. Concern with concentrating and worry about impaired memory may occur.

On the other hand, dementia symptoms reveal a slow mental decline with confusion and loss of recognizing familiar locations. Writing, speaking and motor skills are impaired and memory loss is not acknowledged as a being problem by the person suffering dementia.

Whether it is depression or dementia, prompt treatment is recommended. A physical exam can help determine if there is a medical cause for depression. A geriatric medical practitioner is skilled in diagnosing depression and illnesses in the elderly. If you are a care taker of an elderly person it may be beneficial for you to seek out a geriatric health care specialist.

For more information on senior health services please visit the National Care Planning Council at

Treating depression in older people

Once the cause of depression is identified, a treatment program should be implemented. Treatment may be as simple as relieving loneliness through visitations, outings and involvement in family activities. In more severe cases antidepressant drugs have been known to improve the quality of life in depressed elderly people. Cognitive therapy sessions with a counselor may also be effective.

How can you help an elderly loved one during the holidays?

As a care giver or family member of a depressed older person, make it your responsibility to get involved. The elder person generally denies any problems or may fear being mentally ill, which can make it that much harder to know if the elder person is having any issues. You can help the elder person feel the magic of the season and feel loved by including them in general activities such as:

If an elderly person's depression is linked to a passed loved one, the holiday season can make things particularly painful but discussing and reminiscing about the departed may result in sharing feelings that many have and need to let out. After the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria had maids set out Prince Albert’s clothing for the remainder of her life. Many of us absorb the grief in different ways. The following might help:

Become a Member of the National Care Planning Council

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We invite you to become a member of the NCPC. Your membership will include an advertising listing(s) on our site, your own personal sales (web) page, and access to the member section.

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Long Term CareThe National Care Planning Council is dedicated to helping the American public deal with issues and challenges seniors face. Use the following link to locate eldercare and senior services in your area.

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Books on Eldercare, Veterans Benefits, and Long Term Care for Seniors

The National Care Planning Council is a leader in providing books on timely subjects for long term care planning. Below are five of our popular books.

"How to Apply for Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits for Veterans and Their Survivors" (2022)

"The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning"

"Protect Assets from Nursing Home Costs: Medicaid Secrets"

"Support for Those Who Help Veterans"

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