Holidays Can Trigger Elderly Depression

For many, the holidays are the time of year for family get-togethers, traditions, friends and fun. However, for others, the holidays can be an upsetting or difficult time of year, with feelings of sadness, resentment, and can even initiate a depressive episode. For elderly residents in facilities with little or no family who visit, this can be an especially painful time of year for them.

Assisted Living Education reviews symptoms to look for, and also how to help elderly residents cope with depression during the holidays.

Spotting the Signs

The key to any effective individual care plan is in simply knowing your residents. Familiarity with their personalities and ‘baseline’ behaviors, disposition, and temperament are crucial in detecting any kind of change.

The following are typical depressive symptoms presenting in an elderly resident around the holidays:


  • Subdued or irritable mood; sadness
  • Fatigue, or difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Change in appetite
  • Lack of attention to personal care, hygiene


Even if your residents already present some of these symptoms, it’s important to note if they become more severe or if additional symptoms arise.

How To Help

With proper planning and program design, it may be possible to shift a resident’s attitude and reaction towards the holidays. Well before the holiday season or particular event arrives, try to make an extra effort to engage with those residents who may be at risk for experiencing a depressive episode. One simple way to start is with a conversation.

Have Meaningful Interactions With Your Residents

Regular, casual engagements with your residents can turn into lasting relationships, with positive benefits for the residents. These relationships can help toward stabilizing emotional highs and lows that may be experienced during particular times of year, like the holidays, where residents can tend to feel more isolated and lonely.

Initiating daily conversations with each and every resident may sound like a daunting and time-consuming task, but even keeping it short and sweet can brighten a resident’s day. It’s not necessary to have a long, sit-down conversation, but try to create an ongoing dialogue whenever you see your resident either in passing, during medications administration, therapy sessions, mealtimes, or other times you may have scheduled contact with them.

Obviously, the first priority is to complete your tasks and serve your residents’ medical needs, but sprinkling questions or encouraging comments to engage them can help them feel more at ease and welcome. A simple wave and a smile or a brief question/answer can carry on to the next positive interaction you can make with them.  

Not every individual will be responsive, for various reasons. They may have a shy personality, trust issues, or they may have a disorder or cognitive issue that makes it difficult for them to openly interact or easily communicate with people.

These individuals may take awhile to warm up to you, or you may need to change your approach. Gauge how the individual reacts to conversation; you may need to back off and take small steps for them to open up. Start simply, maybe compliment them on their appearance, or make general conversation, comments, or make small jokes if appropriate. You may be doing most of the conversing at first, but over time, it may balance out to an even exchange. Start inviting them to group activities or outings. Never push a resident into something they are not interested, but let them know they are welcome to join if they want. These relationships can take longer to develop, but are truly meaningful.

Even for residents who have advanced dementia/Alzheimer’s or other cognitive or verbal limitations, making an effort to reach them can make all the difference. Singing to them, or talking/signing with them helps them feel connected to other people. Their responses may be different, but pay close attention to their behaviors and body language for positive or negative feedback.

These are all important components of trust-building, and can help you with other times in the long-run. As a trusted staff member, the resident may look to you in times of difficulty or even non-compliance, to help keep calm or de-escalate a situation if necessary.

Involve Everyone in the Festivities

Most facilities decorate and have events correlating with the major holidays, which is a great start to creating a warm and festive environment. If possible, find out which holidays in particular your residents like to celebrate throughout the year, and make an effort to have those represented if they aren’t part of the mainstream/regular celebrations. Even decorating a common area or the hall near their room can help bring some cheer. If the resident(s) are able, they can help explain the traditions with which they’re familiar and stories they recall from their past.

The winter holidays are also a great time of year to invite people from the community to interact with residents. Local religious organizations, youth musicians, choirs, a capella or other community groups, and even schools can come sing and/or engage with residents and fill their holiday experience. Youth or children’s groups are often welcome ways to enliven everyone’s spirits. Musicians are most appreciated when they play familiar holiday songs or songs from the era when many of the residents were young.

Reaching out to the community and requesting greeting cards for the residents is a simple way to add a little cheer to the holidays as well.

If possible, outings to local community events, or even driving around looking at holiday lights in the neighborhood are great excursions as well.

Recuperation Time is Important

With all of the activities and bustle of the holiday season, down time or quiet time is just as crucial, if not more so. Even if elderly residents are enjoying themselves with all of the festivities, it is a change from their daily routine, and may be more physically and emotionally demanding on them as well. As we age, it can take us longer to recover from activities, especially those out of our norm, whether we realize it or not. Additionally, a tired or stressed individual can have a lower immune response, and be more susceptible to illnesses, which also run rampant during the holiday season.

Partial or half-day activities, and having ‘regular’ days in between can help with recovery time and the extra stress.

Assisted Living Education & You

Assisted Living Education is an outstanding provider of products and services for assisted living, as well as RCFE classes and licensing. Our instructors draw from years of experience and up-to-date training to provide an engaging and informative learning experience to our students. We also offer online and continuing education courses. Visit our contact page to reach out to us for any inquiries!


About Assisted Living Education
Assisted Living Education has been operating in and improving the growing senior care industry for over 15 years. Founded by certified RCFE administrators, Jane Van Dyke-Perez and Bill Perez, we have licensed more than 1,100 assisted living facilities and built close relationships with the California Department of Social Services, assisted living managers, owners and industry professionals. As senior living care educators ourselves, we strive to contribute our knowledge and skills to continually improve senior care and the satisfaction of those working in the industry.