Holiday music, gift advertising and store sales would have you think this time of year is full of happiness. Yet not everyone associates the holidays with joy. This can be especially true for older adults who have faced the loss of loved ones, experience challenges living a full life due to health concerns and watch family members move further away from the traditional family home. They become isolated which often leaves them distraught. We surveyed our interdisciplinary team to determine the main issues leading to isolation of seniors during the holidays, the dangers of it and some things that can be done to help.
What are the issues that lead to isolation?
The holiday experience for isolated older adults is different than those surrounded by friends, family and merriment. While most are giving and receiving gifts, others receive nothing. While most are enjoying good food with family and friends, others eat unaccompanied.
Some seniors are far away from family, have limited access to transportation, or in other cases, are estranged from family and have nowhere to go. Due to many seniors having a limited income, they often feel like they have nothing to offer. These limitations, coupled with high expectations of happiness and company around the holidays, leaves elders feeling insecure on top of isolated.
The time of year can also present itself as ominous for some, both physically and emotionally. According to Patricia Currier, Nurse Practitioner, and Denise Miller, Primary Care Nurse, during this time older adults often reflect on their losses over the years, as it is a reminder of those who are not around. VP of Clinical Services, Betsy Canino, adds the cold weather and increased duration of darkness makes this time even harder for our participants.
What are some of the dangers that could follow?
According to Social Worker Kristen Auger, these factors could lead to participants feeling depressed – especially those with behavioral health issues already. According to Canino, a higher risk of suicidal ideations and poor decision making come from a sense of despair as well. The participants could stop tending to their basic needs: they might not eat well, skip medications or isolate themselves.
What can you do?
As a reader, you are taking the first step, which is to be informed. Keep in mind that the holidays may not bring everybody joy. Auger recommends reaching out to your loved one by calling and/or sending a card. Canino recommends simply taking the time to talk to those around you who may need help. For our staff, this looks like coming into the day center and asking participants how they are.
On a clinical level, PACE’s interdisciplinary team members are poised to celebrate with participants in the day center with meals, gifts and the peppermint auction. We also encourage participants to call PACE if they are feeling upset. Currier also noted that if you know of an older adult who will be alone, let them know that local churches will often have volunteers who will visit isolated elders in the community.
If you see an older adult displaying behaviors that hint that they are isolated or depressed, reach out to them!