December 22, 2010

The holiday season is a time for cheer, celebration and family gatherings. However, for the more than ten million seniors living alone this can be a sad time of year. For elderly people who have lost loved ones this year, or those that are suddenly coping with new health issues, this holiday season could be particularly difficult and lonely. As professionals, we know that these feelings can lead to more dire health consequences.

Isolation is a very big issue for seniors, and more than any other time of year the holiday season can serve as a painful reminder of days long gone. Feeling sad and lonely can result in emotional and physical challenges, even turning what is commonly known as the “holiday blues” into depression. Frail seniors’ ability to get around can be especially daunting for those in cold and snowy areas. Pneumonia and other medical conditions might also occur at this time, thus limiting a senior’s ability to enjoy the holidays at all.

Although this season is a busy time for all of us, there is always time to brighten a senior’s day. In fact, spreading the holiday spirit can be as simple as walking next door.

•Call and check on an elderly neighbor regularly. It will make them feel cared for and give them a sense of belonging and self-worth. If you know a senior who lives alone, stop by and say “hello.” Seniors who live alone may not get a chance to talk to family members or friends very often, or at all, so having a friendly conversation can truly brighten their day.
•Offer to help, in any way you can. Some elderly people hide their true emotional and physical needs and are not inclined to reach out for assistance, as they do not want to feel that they are imposing. If you have a senior in the neighborhood, try to visit them during this season and offer help with transportation, grocery shopping, decorating, cooking or cleaning.
•Invite your senior neighbors for dinner, or include them in other celebrations. If a senior does not have a family to share festivities with, the extension of such an invitation would certainly brighten their day.
•Reach out to your community church or synagogue, as well as local senior care facilities to find seniors in need. A small gesture such as sending a card or plant for the holiday would be very much appreciated.
•Ask if they need a ride. If you know a senior with limited transportation options, invite them to attend a religious service or holiday event with your family.
•Make their walkway safer. Help a senior next-door neighbor shovel and salt their walkway to avoid falling. Offer to walk their dog on a snowy day.
•Keep the blues away. If you notice that a senior on your block shows signs of depression that seem to worsen during the holiday season, talk with them or even suggest that they visit a physician to get checked out. Encourage seniors to stay active, participate in activities they enjoy, and remain engaged in the community whenever possible.

Seniors living alone tend to be forgotten, especially during the busy holiday season. In working with our Griswold Special Care home care clients, we know these simple tips can go a long way. That is why we encourage others to follow these simple steps as it means very much to an elderly individual living alone. Remember those who may be without close family and friends and reach out. It could be the very best gift you can give this holiday season.

Joan Grasso is a director at Griswold Special Care with more than 28 years of health and elder care experience. Previously, Ms. Grasso was Director of Senior Services for a Philadelphia-based hospital system and an administrator of a rehabilitation center. Ms. Grasso received MS in Health Care Administration from University of St. Francis and BA in Psychology from Arcadia University.

As published in Dorland Health.