Aging Parents. Holiday Depression. When Chanukah and Christmas Share the Same Day



At a joyous time for so many who are young(er) and an emotional time for so many who are old(er) and have suffered loss, one wonders whether having the first day of Chanukah begin on the exact same day as Christmas compounds the number of lonely, sad, depressed people in the world.

Countless articles and studies about holidays bringing on depression are available. Advice for sufferers and information about available support exist in abundance. Googling “holiday depression” produces 1,220,000 results. Even here, on this blog since its inception, holiday ideas for helping elders feel supported, cared about and loved exist.

What do we know and what can we do to reduce holiday loneliness in those we care about? Speaking personally–which I try to avoid–is my onIy option. I know from my counseling training that I can’t be objective when my husband died just over 6 months ago. That’s the reason for the larger gap of time between my last post and this. I simply couldn’t figure out how to write on the subject again. With a different perspective I’ve reread my prior posts and can comment. (Click links below and check out ideas.)

Understanding Aging Parents: Elders’s Tips to Reduce Loneliness at Christmas 2015
It’s the Haa, Haa-py-est Time of the year 2009
Help Parents Age Well With a Drive in the Dark  2010
Aging Parents After Christmas Let-Down  2012

Basically I accept the ideas in them  just as much now, as I did when first posting them….with this addition:

Note the idea implicit in “Different Strokes for Different Folks” and “One Size Doesn’t Fit All” is reflected in the interviewees’s comments (see above posts). They pertain to:

Energy level,
ability to take initiative
comfort level being alone or with a pet(I’ve heard women say being alone at night is difficult)
availability of family living near, and no doubt the
ability to see “The Glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty”

All are important aspects to consider when wanting to alleviate or lessen feelings of sadness and loneliness.

For me, personally, the fact that my somewhat rare terrestrial orchid (grows on the ground–pictured potted in soil) sends up this display every year around Christmas/Chanukah, reminds me: life goes on–even after loss. Indeed those tiny clusters of white orchids that resemble a lit candelabra do wither and die.

And while we might feel like the withering and die stage at times, especially after loss, life does go on; so we might as well do our best to make a comeback. And it might take help from caring friends and family if it’s allowed. The comeback will, perhaps, not be as spectacular as this orchid’s…but then…………..

As we try our best to help the elders we care about age well, we remember Grandma’s saying: “When we’ve done our best, we’ve done our best. Angels can do no more!”



Related: the “top stories” about Holiday Depression on Google today:

Local Organizations Supporting Those With Holiday Blues
KGNS TV 12/23/16

Holiday Depression–Identifying the Signs and Finding Support
Fox 13now  12/ 22/16

Help Aging Parents–Loneliness: The Implications are Sobering

At its most basic, it is the lack of fulfilling social connection in people who yearn to feel connected.
The web of meaningful connections that keeps us healthy has “frayed to the breaking point.”
Lonely Planet

The holiday season is here. Several of this blog’s posts in years past have focused on holiday loneliness, offering ideas to mitigate some of it. That said, holiday loneliness is one thing. Perpetual loneliness is another, leading to sobering health consequences. We often think of the emotional. Do we understand the physical? And the implications for lonely, aging parents?

UCLA Health’s recent Lonely Planet  article  (click this link or “loneliness” in Newsworthy at top right) reiterates what many of us know: “Loneliness and social isolation take a steep toll on the human body.”  But are we aware that “Studies show people who are chronically lonely have significantly more heart disease, are more vulnerable to metastatic cancer, have an increased risk of stroke and are more likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s? Lonely adults are 25 percent more likely to die prematurely, while elderly people who are lonely die at twice the rate as those who are socially connected. All of which makes the spike in loneliness in American society even more alarming,” according to the article.

Steve Cole, PhD (FEL ’98), UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and John Cacioppo, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, and UCLA Dr. have done extensive research which Lonely Planet explains. Dr. Cacioppo says “The mortality rate for air pollution is 5 percent,“For loneliness, it’s 25 percent.”  We also learn 1/5 of the population suffers from loneliness.

While we know that older people’s social interactions decrease with age and friends die and/or move, and often family members don’t live near, options for meaningful social interactions have further decreased. Why? Think social media. The options for socialization may be broader, but they’re not deeper, thus encouraging loneliness, which Dr. Cole calls “a pending epidemic.”

Which bring us back to the holidays. Most adult children are capable of supplying the patches–temporarily filling the holiday loneliness void for aging parents. Meanwhile one researcher’s summation is “work that is physically demanding, cognitively stimulating and socially rewarding rids loneliness in older adults.”  With this in mind, impressive results for overcoming loneliness–much more lasting than a patch–are now being achieved by an intergenerational project resulting  from UCLA-Johns Hopkins research: Generation Xchange,  Lonely Planet supplies the details.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it may also take a village to provide meaningful work to dispel loneliness and keep grandparents healthy in the village.

Related:  Understanding Aging Parents: Elders’ Tips to Combat Holiday Loneliness
                Help Aging Parents: Connections, Socialization–Are You an Aging-Parent-Includer?



Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life: Transitions–2016

Traditions and Transitions Impact Aging Parents
and the Elders We Care About

Last year my annual Thanksgiving post focused on turning over a tradition, hosting Thanksgiving dinner, to the next generation. For me it signaled a major transition. We had hosted Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends since the first year of our marriage–whether we were in the East, West, or Southwest. Little did I know that now, a year later, my husband wouldn’t be alive. But since I’d relinquished the Thanksgiving tradition last year, being a guest for Thanksgiving this year was easy and welcomed at a time of many transitions that aren’t always easy….or welcomed.

Last November and again this November I think of Eloise, often written about in this blog’s early years.. My mother’s age, she was incredibly creative and energetic. She was also philosophical about human behavior and generously offered me advice. Although valuing and perpetuating traditions, including her Christmas-tree tradition (featured in House Beautiful in the 1940’s or 50’s and continued another 40-50 years), Eloise emphasized that it’s good to break with tradition. Reason: we shouldn’t be saddled with–or bound by–it. That perhaps paves the way for gentler transitions as people age. Eloise, who died at 95, would have known that.

As the holiday season begins (granted Christmas displays seemed to spring up the moment Halloween ended, so perhaps it already began), I’m in a better position to understand how meaningful it is to be–and feel– included. Clearly major holidays that celebrate family and togetherness call for more sensitivity to older people’s emotional needs. For many–if not most at some point in time– social networks dwindle and families with whom to celebrate may no longer exist.

Early this October a letter from City Meals on Wheels arrived, soliciting funds for special Thanksgiving dinners for those New Yorkers who are alone and needy. My empathy and heightened sensitivity prompted an immediate response.

Tender times. Things change. I’ve chosen to forego air travel to the Southwest for Thanksgiving this year. My goal is to reduce stress and, when possible, avoid situations that make me feel sad. I plan to have a happy Thanksgiving and wish the same for you.

The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn*
*       *      *

Related:  *From The Lion King: “Can’t You Feel the Love Tonight” Tim Rice (lyrics), Elton John (music). Click to watch and listen on YouTube.

Check out new article on loneliness from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine in Newsworthy–right sidebar

90th–or Younger– Birthday Party: Another Creative and Clever Idea

 Image result for red chinese take out boxes

Was there ever a milestone celebration that didn’t involve a lot of planning, some surprises (problems), energy and fatigue? And so it was for Laura’s 90th, written about October 18th.

A phone call to Laura to tell her how much I enjoyed being part of her birthday celebration, led to some revelations. Among them, there were “goody bags” for guests to take home as they left the party.  However, in the excitement of the evening, Laura’s adult children forgot about them so guests never got them.  I think they’re another good idea for elders’ birthday parties.

A Chinese Take-out Box Containing 2 Fortune Cookies……is what the guests were supposed to take home, but the fortune cookie messages were not the usual. Examples:
1.  32,872 days old…but who’s counting?
2.  Consider yourself fortunate that your life has been touched by a special woman
3.  The party always begins when Laura arrives

For creative people who are do-it-yourselfers, this link and this link demonstrate two ways to of putting the personalized message in the professionally-made fortune cookie.

Milestone events are clearly special occasions, especially as people age. Birthday celebrations give opportunities for elderly honorees as well as elderly guests to have fun and take away wonderful memories (and possibly a fortune cookie). And shouldn’t these occasions create that extra dose of excitement and connections with others that help parents age well?

          *                  *               *

PS. A helpful tactic for the scavenger hunt written about on Oct. 18th: Laura’s adult children used a ploy to enable a thorough search for expired food in Laura’s pantry. By asking Laura questions about the past and the “old days,” Laura’s children were able to keep her far away from the pantry, thus allowing them the needed time to look for food containers with long-ago expiration dates.


Help Aging Parents: Halloween–a Treat for All Ages (updated 2016)

Taking aging parents and elders we care about
to see the Halloween displays

Who doesn’t enjoy Halloween decorations! They’re becoming increasingly widespread. Indoors and out-of-doors these decorations are so much more elaborate than the orange, carved, candle-lit pumpkins–and perhaps a black cat or witch– sitting on the front porches of our childhood homes. However…..aging parents and older people we care about may not have the pleasure of seeing them.

Here’s how to remedy this–

Country Farm Stand in Oct.

Country Farm Stand in Oct. Can you see the tractor in back?  Click to enlarge.

Whether in the country or the city, various-shaped, and even white-creamy-colored-pumpkins, along with Halloween themed inflatables–plus ghosts skeletons, and witches–are common sights. Every year it seems more suburban and urban homes and commercial

Halloween Pumpkins


establishments dress up for Halloween. Even New York City townhouses get fancied-up for the occasion–a friendly ghost, a sedate townhouse’s front stoop. And sidewalks yield surprises.  Isn’t this a perfect time to make plans to talk older people out for a great change of scenery?

In addition to daytime outings, consider an evening drive when lighted Halloween displays create a theatrical atmosphere.

Whether it’s day or night, how many old and/or somewhat infirmed people rarely go out, spending their days indoors–at home or in assisted living or more structured care facilities?  Still others don’t drive–or don’t drive unfamiliar roads or at night. 

img_5418For older people who are able to get into a car–with or without our help–going for a ride provides countless opportunities for stimulation and lifted spirits. Anticipating the event is an added bonus if we make the date ahead of time.

It turned out to be a dreary day for an outing we had a few years ago–yet we had smiles on our faces as each Halloween display came into view. There was anticipation as we turned a corner to a new block. img_5451We never knew what to expect, although I did a “dry run” ahead of time several years ago to scope out decorated neighborhoods. They haven’t disappointed.

While a drive to the country or suburbs is a change of pace for city dwellers, cities and small towns yield their own attractions if we know where to find them. And let’s not forget the store windows and–for those who like to walk or use a wheel chair–why not explore the malls.

Any outing is always a win-win: stimulation, companionship and something to think about long after the event itself. Indeed we know major studies confirm that connections with others and stimulation are important factors in aging well.

We may have limited free time and our elders may have limited staying power, in which case a “dry run” could be in order. Whether carefully planned or spontaneous, the benefits of a ride–long or short–are clearly worth the time and effort.

Aging plays so many unexpected tricks on older people. Isn’t is great when we can give them a treat!


Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Click links to timely information and research from respected universities–plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Two Great 90th–or younger–Birthday Party Ideas


Saturday night three creative adult children honored their 90-year-old mother with a warm, upbeat, lovely dinner party. There were 78 guests ages 4-94, the latter being Laura’s husband of 69 years. What made it such fun? And also interesting?

  • It was well planned, with just the right mix of short speeches, video, recorded messages, nonprofessional music, thoughtful seating of guests and family members.
  • The venue was a hotel. Drinks and hors d’oeuvre in one private room; another room set up with table for dining (8 persons per table), a screen for the video of family members going back to Laura’s grandmother.
  • 2 original very personalized games:

The first, confessed by one grandchild, was a scavenger hunt the grandchildren played (without the grandparents knowing about it) the day before in Laura’s refrigerator and pantry. Goal: find the packages, jars, or containers with the oldest expiration date. They held up each item, announced its contents (e.g. can of sweet peas expired 1996; package of Jello expired 2000) bringing gales of laughter. Don’t we all know older people who have expired food on their shelves?

The second game–consisted of repeating sayings they’d heard over and over from their grandmother. If Laura could remember which kid she said it to and under what circumstance, she’d get a whatever (kiss?). Laura protested that she hadn’t been prepped for this game, whereupon the kids ignored her protests and continued. A fun way to hear information about the honoree and Laura’s not being prepared made it spontaneous, which was half the fun.

  • Proclamations sent by various officials (Laura was active in local politics). Seems her son got busy, many months before, writing state and local officials. Laura thinks there must be people in government offices who specialize in sending congratulatory letters.
  • The video was short, with music and voice over and old family photos. Videos are no doubt a part of many celebrations for older/old people. But something made this video even more special. After watching a lifetime of carefully selected photos and getting a feeling for the family there was an interesting addition. Laura’s brother told the story. In going back and tracing the family roots, a lost part of the family was found, contacted, and six members of that family were in attendance.

When birthday parties for the elderly involve research, one never knows what will be unearthed!

On a personal note–Interestingly that same day–because the party was in a town that had a railroad station but no taxis, I got off the train and phoned (as instructed) the hotel to ask for their car service. The latter was very slow to arrive. Nearby was a van with a father and two youngsters and I decided I’d perhaps walk to the hotel if it wasn’t too far so I tapped on the window and asked the distance-to-the-hotel question.  (For those interested, New Yorkers are accustomed to walking everywhere so I’d planned to change into good  shoes at the hotel.)

We had a short conversation and to our surprise, we learned my former next-door neighbor was his cousin….a cousin he hadn’t seen in 30 years, but was reunited with at the family wedding down south last summer. (Yes, he took me to the hotel.)

Bottom line: Whether birthday parties for the elderly, or weddings for those younger, milestone events clearly provide occasions that add enjoyment and surprises. And doesn’t that contribute to helping parents–and all the elderly we care about–age well.


Related: From Laura’s Birthday party–a clever, creative party gift the adult children forgot to put out for the guests.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and
research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.