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Keep Seniors Close at Christmas for Better Health All Year

Karen Moriarty is president of North Carolina's premier assisted living provider for seniors.What should be the most joyful season of the year is often the loneliest time in the life of a senior.  Not only do the holidays sharpen the loss of friends and loved ones, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas can also be quite isolating for seniors who live alone.  Today, nearly 30 percent of people over the age of 65 live alone; a troubling statistic given what we know about the effects of social isolation on a senior’s mental and physical well-being.

Seasonal depression around the holidays affects people of all stages of life. But while generally mild and temporary for younger and middle-aged people, seasonal depression can have a lasting, debilitating impact on seniors who are already experiencing some level of social isolation. The help that might be readily provided to seniors from friends and loved ones throughout the year can be in short supply during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, leaving an elderly person without the social connections they need just when they need them most.  Factor in winter weather to that scenario, and you have a senior population who can’t leave home on their own, has no one coming in to check on them for long periods, and over time becomes medically and psychologically at risk.  

And the risks are great. Isolation-related depression in seniors has been shown to significantly increase mortality rates, contribute to cognitive decline, and result in long-term health issues including diabetes and high-blood pressure. 

So what can you do to help? First, we can’t wait for an elderly person to reach out to us. Older adults pride themselves on their independence, and worry about becoming a burden to those around them. We must first be aware of those who may need our help, even if they haven’t asked for it. A neighbor, for instance, whose mail and newspapers are piling up outside. A loved one who calls and says they are fine, but seems down. A friend you haven’t seen out and about in some time.

Show the seniors in your life — be they family, neighbors, new and old friends alike — that they are not alone. Call just to chat for no particular reason. Stop by for a friendly visit. Offer to run an errand for them, or help them with their Christmas shopping and decorating.  Any amount of time spent with a senior at the holidays is time well spent. Ask them about their favorite holiday memories, and listen as they recall people and times long past. By doing so, you are helping them hold on to cherished memories, and creating new ones, as well.

And remember, Carillon is here to help. Our senior communities are not just a place to come and live well — they are a welcoming place to visit old friends and make new ones, to participate in fun, engaging activities all year, and to celebrate time-honored traditions at the holidays with loved ones. Our Christmas wish is for Carillon to be an open door to any senior who needs us, at the holidays and all year.

Posted in From the President on December 16, 2015

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