A Homecare Nurse’s Guide to Beating the Holiday Blues – For Seniors and Family Caregivers

By Beth O’keefe
Care Coordinator with the not-for-profit VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans

Holiday Blues DreamstimeFor so many of us, the holidays spark feelings of happiness and celebration. Families get together to exchange season’s greetings and ring in the New Year with generations of friends and family coming from far and wide. For most, it’s a festive time. But for members of our community who are homebound, sometimes things don’t feel quite so cheery.

As a health professional who works to help folks live safely and independently in their own homes as they age, I’ve seen firsthand how loneliness can switch on a mean case of the Holiday Blues. In my role as a registered nurse and care coordinator for VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans in Central New York, I understand how debilitating it can be to be for some of the people we care for to manage the holiday season—especially those who have recently lost a loved one, or who have limited mobility or chronic conditions that make getting out to enjoy the holidays seem daunting.

Here are a few guidelines that we hope will help increase awareness of potential triggers for the holiday blues and offer simple strategies for inspiring good cheer—in yourself, or someone you love!

Helping Yourself Helps Others
Loneliness is more prevalent this time of year. Take your mind off your own troubles by helping others in need. If you can manage to squeeze it in, spend a few hours volunteering at a local soup kitchen, or donate a collection of canned goods or second-hand clothes or toys to a favorite charity. Even just visiting the residents at a nursing home or children’s hospital can make a big difference in your outlook. Develop an “Attitude of Gratitude” for the things that truly matter. Your gift of spending time with those who are shut in or hospitalized this holiday can be the best medicine for both you and the receiver.

Kitchen Serving Food In Homeless Shelter

Be Jolly, but in Moderation
There is nothing as enticing as a colorful row of holiday cookies and treats, but all that sugar and carbohydrates can zap your energy and then your spirits—especially if combined with too much alcohol. We suggest sticking to healthy eating patterns during the holidays, emphasizing lean meats, leafy vegetables, whole grains and fruit. Avoid driving after indulging and be aware of any medications that may be contraindicated with alcohol.

Holiday Traditions
This is the season of tradition – whether it’s attending services, watching holiday classics, or spending time with family and loved ones. Homebound seniors may not be able to attend church or synagogue. A great way to combat this is to do your best to take advantage of technology; many services and holiday classics are now on TV or the internet. Select a few shows or movies and write down the times and channels to remind those that may have memory loss. If family lives far away, help shorten the distance by setting up Skype or other Internet tools so that your loved one can see and connect with relatives and grandchildren face to face.

If what you are experiencing is more than a transient case of the blues and is associated with a persistent feeling of sadness over a long period of time as well as loss of interest in things that previously brought you joy, notify your primary care physician as soon as possible.

To learn more about health plans that help elder New Yorkers live more comfortably, safely and independently in their own homes, visit www.VNSNYCHOICE.org or call 1-855-AT CHOICE (1-855-282-4642).