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Cheering Up the Holidays

For most people, the major holidays—Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's-- carry a common theme of family dinners, laughter, parties, dancing, special foods, special friends, gift giving, joy and optimism.

Seniors living alone don't always share all that joy. They might not reach the point of serious depression but experience "winter doldrums," due to the weather, the isolation and the absence of family and friends. The recent loss of a spouse or other loved one can exaggerate the feelings, of course.

Accept that the empty feelings will arrive as surely as the first snowfall, and then devise a plan for overcoming or at least minimizing them. You take medications to ward off high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, the flu and osteoporosis—so why not create your own "medicine" to chase the Winter blues? A few ideas:

  1. If you say, "I used to love cooking a big meal, for the whole family, but I hate to cook for myself," compromise. Don't plan a feast for ten, just pick a few favorite foods—including the shrimp cocktail and a decadent dessert—and make a double or triple quantity. Maybe enjoy a glass of special wine or cider with your meal or just the favorite appetizers and dessert! It is for YOU!
  2. Music--another universal antidote. Think of the best of times--parties, weddings, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, new babies, theater/opera trips. What songs and instrumentals come to mind? If you can't find your own, you can borrow a dozen tapes/CDs/DVDs from the local library. If you don't have a music player, consider that a special gift for yourself. If you can't get out, you can order one by phone, mail, computer—or borrow one from a library for the holidays. Sing along as loud as you please!
  3. Reach out with phone calls or letters to those who no longer reach out to you, for whatever reasons. It is a good season to let go of past rancor and try to reactivate lost relationships. Even if you rekindle only one or two good contacts, you will feel satisfaction.
  4. If you no longer attend religious services due to lack of transportation or health reasons, ask if volunteers provide free rides. If not, consider local taxis, to gain the comfort of the social and spiritual experience. And don't forget that some rabbis, priests, deacons, ministers do make "house calls," in some situations or have volunteers who do.
  5. Think of something you can inexpensively make for a nearby family that will have very little for the holidays. Perhaps pull out that favorite dessert recipe again? Call the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, churches that take children out caroling on frigid nights. Invite them to make a pit stop at your home to enjoy hot chocolate, in exchange for a song or two.
  6. Call Retired Senior Volunteers, Voluntary Action Center or the County Social Services Department to offer your services. You could make reassuring calls to other isolated seniors, for example. Those contacts might lead to new friendships among volunteers or even those whom you call.
  7. Ask the volunteer agencies to identify one or two other seniors you might invite over for a visit, a simple meal and conversation. That also might lead to ongoing friendships.
  8. If you say," I never go to the senior center—that's for really old people," reconsider. You will find vibrant, fun loving 85 year olds there as well as stimulating 65 year olds. Senior centers don't just offer bingo and arts & crafts. You will be amazed at the broad array of mentally and physically stimulating activities, and trips, you can enjoy. Even if you like to be alone, you can do solitary activities in the midst of friendly, supportive peers and professionals while absorbing some of the warmth. The centers provide free transportation—and have holiday parties that rival the best. Bring your dancing shoes!
  9. Find that sweater you never finished knitting, re-read your favorite book—or a new one-- or write the poem or short story you have carried in your head for years.
  10. If these and other ideas you think of don't help on a particularly difficult day--or night-- remember there are mental health professionals who can speak with you by phone, 24 hours a day.

So, as the holidays approach, creatively plan for ways to minimize the blues, increase your joy and create some positive cheer for others. trustworthy dementia care