With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging Americans to not travel this holiday season to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, more older adults will spend the holidays alone. AAA predicted a 10% drop in Thanksgiving travel, which is the largest one-year decrease since 2008’s Great Recession.
Unfortunately, older adults are already vulnerable to depression and isolation, according to the National Institute on Aging. Some may have lost loved ones, or they may have mobility issues that make it hard to get out and see others. Those evergreen issues, along with recommendations not to travel during the holidays this year due to the pandemic, could make it hard to cope.
However, if you’re an older adult, there are still ways that you can connect with others this holiday season. Follow the tips below to lift your spirits and remain in contact with those you care about over the next few weeks.
1. Set up or take part in a virtual gathering.
Virtual gatherings have helped many people stay in touch with loved ones during 2020. If your friends or family haven’t set this up yet, suggest it to them! Everyone can gather online at a certain time and day, and you’ll get to see your loved ones wherever they may be. If you still feel intimidated by new technology like Zoom, ask a younger family member for help. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it’s not that hard to use. Plus, you’ll get the added benefit of connecting with others online.
2. Ask someone to join you for a safe holiday celebrations
Maybe there’s a caregiver or one local family member or friend who can join you for a special holiday meal (while practicing any recommended safety guidelines, of course). Or, you and that person can take a drive together to look at holiday lights. This year, there also will be more drive-through holiday light displays at parks. More ideas: Cook or order in a special holiday meal, play holiday music, and put up some decorations together. That way, you connect with someone and still get to celebrate the season.
3. Take walks in nature
If you’re mobile enough to take regular walks and it’s not too cold, take advantage of the healing power of nature. Being outside can help you get fresh air and boost your mood. Plus, walks are terrific for your physical health. If possible, set a regular walking routine and ask a buddy to join you.
4. Watch your favorite holiday shows or movies
“A Christmas Story,” “A Christmas Carol,” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” are all holiday favorites. There’s no shortage of treasured holiday shows and movies to entertain, inspire, or give you a laugh. Check out your local cable listings to see when these movies or playing or consider browsing one of the many streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime that likely have those movies now. Listen for holiday specials on TV that you might enjoy as well, so you can watch them when they air or you can record them and watch them later.
5. Learn how to take part in online groups
Due to the pandemic, there are more options than ever to connect with people via online groups. These could be church groups (such as Bible studies), cooking clubs, book clubs, support groups, and more. These groups are potentially a terrific way for you to connect with others and feel less lonely.
6. Reach out to others
If you let others know you want and need more social support, you may be surprised by the positive response you get. Let family or friends know you’d like to chat regularly to talk about your day and just connect. If you’re on social media sites like Facebook, put up a message to let people know you’re thinking of them and would like to exchange messages or phone calls. You also can find out if your local senior center has special phone numbers to call to connect with others regularly. AARP Community Connections has a free service to connect older adults with others by phone.
7. Speak up if you think you need help managing grief or depression
It’s normal to feel sad from time to time, but you should let a trusted loved one or a health provider know if you think you are depressed or having a hard time managing grief this holiday season. Signs of depression in older adults include:
- Crying a lot.
- Loss of appetite.
- Not able to do your normal daily routine because of your sadness.
- Trouble sleeping.
You don’t have to live with depression just because you’re getting older. There is help. Additionally, some physical ailments are commonly associated with depression, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, and even thyroid disorders. That’s all the more reason to let someone know if you think you are depressed so they can get you the mental or physical help you need.
If you are sad enough that you are thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The lifeline has people answering calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The CDC also has a helpful web page with advice and resources if you are experiencing grief from the loss of someone during the pandemic.