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Posted: January 17, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Finding a Cure for the Post-Holiday Blues

You've done everything possible to make the just-completed holiday season special for your loved one. You cooked special meals and snacks, arranged visits and gatherings with their friends and relatives, decorated their room or home, took part in special events with them, and several other things. They laughed and smiled and told you how much they enjoyed everything. You knew inside yourself they had a good holiday.

Now the decorations are down and life for your loved one is returning to normal. But they seem so down. They don't smile much. They just don't appear happy any more.

What happened?

The problem isn't anything you've done. Your loved one did enjoy the holiday. It's just that they're experiencing something called the "post-holiday blues." (Sometimes it affects caregivers, too, doesn't it!)

Many factors influence your loved one's post-holiday blues. If you understand those influences and what can help your loved one deal with the blues, perhaps you can bring back to the happy person they were during the holidays.

We all seem to look forward to the holidays. There are happy songs, special programs on television, parties and visits with family and friends, special meals, presents and many other activities. It's a happy time, but things still aren't like they used to be.

Your loved one used to be able to do what they wanted, when they wanted. They can't do that now. They helped create happy holidays for you and the rest of their family. They can't do that now either. They need your help, and they may be facing or thinking about the end of their life. They may live several more years, but they are still thinking about their end. No matter what you do, you can't override that possibility.

The holidays inevitably bring thoughts of friends and family. Seniors, especially, have lost people who were special to them over the past year. Remembering those people -- and their loss -- brings pain, sadness and grief. I don't need someone to take care of me, but I have that same problem. I have a couple of holiday angels, one for Mom and one for Dad, that I hang on my Christmas tree every year. The funeral home gave them to me the first Christmas after Mom and Dad died, and I appreciate those ornaments so much. I'm still looking for a cat angel to hang with Mom and Dad's angels. My cat was a big part of the last 4-1/2 years of my parent's lives.

Every holiday brings thoughts of past holidays, and those past holidays were so much happier and busy. There is no way this holiday can compare with the ones experienced in the past when everyone was younger and more active. Even if your loved one tries to forget the differences, they can't. They just can't relive the happy holidays they experienced in the past. Why wouldn't they feel sad?

After feeling the temporary happiness of the holidays, there is a powerful feeling of emptiness when that is gone. Everyone experiences that feeling. Then there are other specific things that may cause your loved one to feel sad. They may be unhappy with what they did with their life -- maybe they haven't accomplished what they intended or had broken relationships that still hurt. They may have spent the holiday alone, even though they saw friends and family and participated in activities before the actual holiday. They simply may be tired and they may not feel well. They may worry about money. There are a multitude of problems that may contribute to the post-holiday blues.

So what can you do to help your loved one get over this seasonal problem?

First of all, you must remember that what works for one person may not work for another. There isn't a fixed set of guidelines that will solve the problem for everyone, but there are suggestions that may help. Once you read them, try to think of other things that may help your loved one.

  • If possible, get your loved one out of their living area. Fresh air and the outdoors are very refreshing, but going to a different area of an assisted living facility or home also helps.
  • During the next few months, plan special activities your loved one will enjoy. Be sure to include them in the planning.
  • Find ways for them to keep in contact with their friends and relatives they don't see very often. Get them a cell phone. If your loved one doesn't use a computer or internet, write e-mails for them and read the answers to them. Dad used to get so excited when he received an email from relatives he had lost contact with. He didn't want to learn the computer, but had me do it. Letters sent through the postal service will do the same thing. There's definitely something special about the elderly and the written word.
  • Help your loved one do something new. It doesn't have to be a major project, just something your loved one will enjoy.
  • Make sure your loved one is eating healthy. Then, if they want a special treat, find a way to add that to their diet occasionally.
  • Find a way to keep your loved one exercising. Even if they can't walk, you can move their legs to get the exercise needed.
  • Do everything possible to help your loved one get enough sleep.
  • Try to help them get into a routine. Eating, sleeping and taking medications at regular times is very important, and the holidays usually interrupt their schedule.
  • Now, think about your loved one. What has always been important to them? What type of thing did they especially enjoy? What would make them happy? Watching a football game? Watching someone prepare food on television? Or repair a house? What about carving something out of wood? Knitting?

In general, try to find some way to help them out of the post-holiday blues. It is a normal feeling and it isn't because you did something wrong. It's just something that goes along with the holidays. And you may be helped by the process too!

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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