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The Guide to Overcoming Holiday Depression for the Elderly and Their Caretakers

Table of Contents

  • Overview
  • For Caregivers
  • For Family Members
  • For the Elderly
  • Additional Resources


Approximately 6 million people over 65 are depressed. But unfortunately, few seek treatment. Chronic health issues, feelings of loneliness, and loss of loved ones can exacerbate feelings of depression and make the holidays a very difficult time for some seniors.

Following is a resource guide for the elderly, their caregivers and their family members with tips and advice on how to beat holiday depression.

For Caregivers

Happy Holidays

Look for signs of depression. As this article from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation explains, the holidays can be a difficult time for older adults who may be dealing with the loss of loved ones and past traditions. The article points out that while feeling blue can be normal, depression isn’t. The article notes that it is important for caretakers to be on the look out for signs of depression, such as persistent sadness, frequent tearfulness, weight changes, changes in sleep patterns, etc.

Plan holiday outings and events. As this article notes, one way caregivers can help older adults avoid holiday depression is to plan fun holiday activities. For example, the article suggests going caroling, including them in decorating, making holiday crafts, taking them holiday shopping, etc.

Listen. As this article on geriatric depression notes, one of the best things you can do is take time to truly listen to the older adults under your care. It recommends taking 15 minutes each day to spend just listening to them. It is important for them to be able to talk about their feelings and to know that they’re being heard.


Christmas cookies.


Encourage them to talk about old memories. As this article from GTN News notes, an elderly person who has undergone changes either as result of the death of a spouse or moving to a care facility may need help connecting meaning to the holidays. The article suggests that a great way to help them do so is to encourage them to talk about their memories of past holidays. Sit with the person and look through photo albums or watch family videos, if available to you. And then, as mentioned above, listen carefully to the stories they tell.

Plan quiet time. The Caregiver Alliance at Central Boston Elder Services provides this “Caregivers Guide for Managing the Holidays.” It provides many great tips for caregivers on how to help themselves during the holidays and how to help those they care for. One great tip is to be sure to plan quiet time. The holidays are full of hustle and bustle and this can be disruptive to an elderly person. Plan some quiet time between the holiday parties and family visits so that they can recharge their batteries.

Use the Geriatric Depression Scale. As this article from the National Care Planning Council explains, the Geriatric Depression Scale was developed to provide a simple way to screen elderly people for depression. It asks “Yes/No” questions and its scores can be used to decide whether an elderly person may need additional care for their depression.

Take them for a drive to see Christmas lights. This article from provides tips on how to help the elderly with depression during the holidays. One tip suggests taking seniors for a drive to see Christmas lights. It’s a great way to get them out of the house for a bit and is the perfect outing for those with mobility issues.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. The holidays can be hard on caregivers, too. This article provides tips on how to prevent the “caregiving blues” during the holidays. It suggests asking others to help lighten your load, meditating, avoiding striving for perfection, and many other great tips to boost your own mental health this holiday season.

For Family Members




Before Checklist

Consider recent changes that could cause depression. As this article notes, certain life changes can trigger depression in older adults. It provides advice on how to help a parent deal with depression that follows the diagnoses of the following illnesses/health problems:

Find ways to include elderly family members in your holiday prep. This article provides many great tips on how to help elderly family members who may feel depressed during the holidays. One tip emphasizes the importance of helping them keep busy and active. A great way to do that is to include them in your own holiday prep and planning.

During Checklist

Assess how they’re doing overall. This article from AARP suggests you can make the most of the holidays by using the time with your elderly loved one to assess how they’re faring. It recommends considering areas such as mobility, health, and finances. These are all problem spots that can contribute to depression when difficulties arise.


Gifts? Already?


Help with specific tasks. As this article from the Crestview News Bulletin notes, holiday traditions are important and simply helping an elderly relative carry on those traditions can mean a lot to them. The article provides tips on how to do so. For example, you might help an elderly loved one with their favorite holiday recipe, help them decorate and/or wrap presents, help them send holiday cards to their other loved ones, and so on.

Don’t ask them to “snap out of it.” This article on caring for someone with depression provides a great reminder: If an elderly loved one seems depressed during the holidays, it isn’t productive or helpful to ask them to “snap out of it” or “get their act together.” Instead, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling.

If you can’t visit, call. As this article notes, you may live away from your elderly relative and aren’t able to be with them during the holidays. If so, be sure to call them frequently and encourage other family members and friends to call them. Also, the article suggests encouraging your elderly relative to take part in holiday activities and events. Staying busy can be a great way to beat the holiday blues.

After Checklist

Watch for ongoing signs of depression. As this article notes, what at first may seem like the “holiday blues” could turn into depression if not treated. If signs of depression continue in an elderly relative after the holidays are over, help them seek treatment.

Keep up communication. As this article notes, the fun and excitement that come with the holidays may actually help to buoy your loved one’s spirits. Sometimes the trouble can come after the holidays when elderly loved ones may experience loneliness or post-holiday sadness. The article recommends visiting elderly loved ones frequently after the holidays. If you don’t live close by, call or send cards. Just let them know you’re thinking about them.

Follow up. This article from the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides tips on helping a depressed family member during the holidays. As it notes, if you’ve spoken to an elderly loved one about seeking care for their depression, be sure to follow up with them after the holidays. Don’t let the matter drop. Check in with them to see if they’ve sought help and ask if they need help.

For the Elderly


rosehips wreath

Know how to beat the holiday blues. As this article notes the American Geriatrics Society's Health in Aging Foundation recognizes that the holidays can be a difficult time of year for older adults. It points readers to the Foundation’s “Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues,” which provide great advice for the elderly, such as “get out and about,” “drink responsibly,” “talk to someone,” and more.

Remember loved ones but make new traditions. This article from WebMD provides great advice on how to protect ones mental health during the holidays. Some of the tips are especially good for older adults to keep in mind. For example, if you’ve lost loved ones and/or won’t be able to enjoy the usual holiday traditions, the article recommends starting a new tradition, something everyone can enjoy. It also recommends finding ways at the holidays to commemorate those you’ve lost.

Be aware of holiday depression triggers. This article from provides 11 great tips on how to stay positive and truly happy during the holidays. Here they are:

Don’t wait for the feelings to pass. This article from the Providence Journal provides tips on how to handle holiday depression. One of the tips stresses the importance of getting help if you’re feeling depressed. Discuss how you’re feeling with your doctor. As the article reminds, depression is an illness and going untreated will only make things worse.

Eat healthy. As this article notes, the holidays bring with them lots of unhealthy holiday treats and beverages. Be careful not to overdo it. Understand, as the article says, that “good physical health contributes to good mental health.”

Don’t feel guilty if you can’t afford certain gifts. As this article notes, you may be living on a fixed income, which means you may not be able to afford expensive gifts for family members. Don’t let this get you down. Make a budget for gifts and stick to it. Being responsible with your money will help prevent money worries later on.Let go of past resentments. If you’re holding on to old grudges with family members or other close ones, this article from Psychology Today, recommends letting them go. It suggests that holding on to these resentments can contribute to the holiday blues. Let those negative feelings go and enjoy the holidays.

Don’t give in to loneliness. As this information from the Mayo Clinic notes, the holidays can be stressful and stress can lead to or worsen depression. If part of your holiday stress comes from feeling lonely, the article recommends that you reach out to family members or other loved ones. Participate in holiday activities or, if you’re able, volunteer with a nonprofit and give back to others in your community.

Additional Resources

American Psychological Association’s Depression and Suicide in Older Adults Resource Guide

The Community Guide Mental Health Recommendations

Geriatric Mental Health Foundation

National Council on Aging Center for Healthy Aging Mental Health Resources

National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

University of Michigan Depression Center