Elderhood Project: ‘Winter blues’ can be cured with family visit


It’s Christmas eve, and by now, the gifts are under the tree and family dinners are being prepared.

But for some kupuna, the holidays can be a time of pain, sorrow and sadness.

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can trigger a change in anyone’s mood. For an aging loved one, however, the holidays can bring memories of earlier and happier times and can intensify feelings of sadness.

Psychologist Allana Coffee said they happen “especially during the holidays. They’re the ones that made the parties happen, they’re the ones that brought us all together, and so even their roles during the holidays shift into one of being on the sidelines.”

The “winter blues” or winter depression is caused by medical problems, chronic pain, memory loss, poor diet, a move to a care facility and general frustrations with aging and feeling alone.

But Dr. Coffee said there’s a simple solution. “The short and sweet visit, the quality visit, that’s the prize,” she said. We’re talking 20, 30, 40 minutes at most. Mom doesn’t need us there six hours.”

If you’re a caregiver of a depressed kupuna, make it your responsibility to help them feel the magic of the season.

“Older folks like to go and reminisce,” Coffee said, “and they take off and remember times in the past. They’ll repeat those loops and there’s no reason for us to correct that — tell us the story a third or 15th time, let it be.”

And if their depression is linked to the passing of a loved one, she recommends “that we remember with them — ‘oh, Grandpa used to love this song’ or ‘Grandma would have loved this cake or this pie.”

Encourage them to reminisce and share their memories. “They may cry and that does not mean we have harmed them or hurt them. It just means that we have invited them into a memory that was a sweet memory.”

But if the depression moves past the holidays, Coffee urges seeking professional help. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of love and a caring heart.

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