‘Tis the season to be jolly, but Christmas can also be a difficult time for aging family members, said Mount Saint Mary College psychology professor Lawrence Force.
Force, a gerontologist, is director of the college’s Center on Aging and Disability and Policy. He has worked in the field of aging and disabilities for more than three decades as an administrator, clinician, and educator. He has authored and collaborated on books, articles, and technical reports that address topics of aging policy, Alzheimer's disease, family caregiving, and end-of-life care.
“Holidays are a time of tradition, family, and reflection, and there’s a lot of value and strength in that,” said Force. Reminiscing about Christmases past “can have a positive outcome, but it can also churn up some negative feelings.”
The paradigm holds true for people of all backgrounds, but Force points out that the older one gets, the greater the chance for the loss of a spouse or other loved one during the course of the year, which can influence the holidays. Families could also experience other changes in dynamics, including marriage or divorce.
Thinking about unpleasant or stressful life changes can cast a dark shadow over what was once an enjoyable holiday.
Force suggests that there might be another reason for feeling down during the holidays – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), in which an individual who otherwise has normal mental health can experience symptoms of depression based on the time of year. One possibility is that SAD is related to a lack of the biochemical serotonin, which is thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.
Because sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin in one’s body, winter’s shorter days might be partly to blame for changes in mood.
According to Force, a therapy lamp – which emulates natural light – might help push away the holiday blues. Daytime walks might also help seniors (and other family members) to feel better.
Force also suggests drinking more water and getting more exercise.