Fine tune the holidays for older adults

With the season of fall celebrations in full swing, there’s no better time to consider how the holidays might be impacting seniors and loved ones who are aging, ill or experiencing dementia and other diagnoses that may change the way your family’s holiday celebrations take place. Considering a senior’s specific health needs and carving out new holiday traditions can be fun for the whole family.

Focus on the spirit of the season

Thanksgiving may have gotten to be much more about the feasting than giving thanks, and Christmas has become more commercialized.  Consider the fact that as people age — and at any age — it’s important to recognize the real “reason for the season” versus the gifting and the parties. Instead of focusing on a big gathering, keep holidays celebrations small, and redirect these get-togethers more on simply spending quality time together versus big feasts, gift giving or long guest lists.

Have an attitude of gratitude

At Thanksgiving, instead of stressing out about the perfect stuffing, why not start a new tradition of having each guest or family member give thanks and share a special memory that includes the senior? This is a great way for the aging senior to feel appreciated while also reliving priceless memories.

Connect spiritually

For the those who are religious, spending the holidays with like-minded friends and relations is a wonderful way to make people of all ages feel as though they are not alone. There is spiritual strength in being together. Getting together to pray or attending a special holiday service together as a family or with a senior loved one is a wonderful, yet perfectly simply and non-stressful way to celebrate the holidays.

Make handmade cards

In lieu of gifts, having the loved one’s grandchildren make handmade cards from the heart is a great way to decorate the senior’s living space for the holidays and send messages of love from those that can’t be near during the season. No matter their age, children’s heartfelt and handwritten messages are sure to uplift spirits this season.

Take a walk

If the weather is not too brisk, and the senior is feeling up for some activity, bundle up, pour some coffee or hot chocolate into to-go mugs and head out to a neighborhood that is dedicated to “lighting up the night” with festive Christmas lighting and décor. Something as simple as viewing these beautiful and unique lighting displays, while walking arm in arm with family and loved ones makes for a very special holiday memory.

Remember that as older adults age or as dementia sufferers progress in their illness, keeping visits and experiences brief, and as non-stressful as possible is important. The fast pace of the holiday season may cause anxiety and even confusion, so try to make space for quiet times and proper rest for loved ones during the season — and all year long!

We would like to thank Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center for their insights. During this time, and all year long, it is important for people experiencing mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.

Be mindful of mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined in many ways. However, a common definition is a mental state achieved through the awareness of thoughts, senses and emotions in the present moment without interpretation or judgment. 

Mindfulness practices generally involve breathing techniques to relax the body and mind. This is immensely helpful for managing stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression because these issues are amplified by negative thought patterns.

Why mindfulness?

There are many reasons to practice mindfulness, the most common being its benefits on mental health and cognitive functioning. Meditation, a common mindfulness practice, has been extensively studied in clinical trials to assess its potential to promote wellness. The results of these studies concluded that meditation is effective for a variety of mental health issues such as:

  • Stress 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Meditation also provides benefits to various aspects of cognitive functioning such as: 

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Verbal fluency
  • Cognitive flexibility (the ability to think about multiple concepts at once)

How to practice mindfulness

Now that you understand what mindfulness is and why it is worth trying, you may be wondering how to engage in this practice. Many different methods are used to engage in mindfulness and choosing one can be challenging. However, one of the best mindfulness practices to start with is meditation. To effectively meditate, you should engage in the following steps:

  •  Find a comfortable place to sit
  •  Choose a comfortable sitting position
  •  Sit up with your back straight
  •  Rest your hands in a comfortable position on your legs
  •  Close your eyes (this step is optional but highly recommended)
  •  Take long deep breaths and focus your thoughts on your breathing pattern
  •  At any point in your meditation, if your thoughts wander from your breathing pattern, redirect your focus to your breathing.

Another great way to meditate is through guided meditation apps available on your smartphone. These apps guide you step-by-step through meditation practices and adjust to your preferences. The most reputable guided meditation apps are The Mindfulness App and Headspace, because they have good potential to give you an excellent meditation experience.

Something to keep in mind

Be patient. When you first start meditating or engaging in any other mindfulness practice it will take some time before you get the hang of it, especially if you tend to overthink. However, over time it will become a very natural, effortless practice.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one have a mental health concern, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.

Fighting the holiday blues

The holiday season is just around the bend. Often, we give community presentations directed toward older adults and combatting the holiday blues, and this blog is based on our presentations. We hope that everyone finds this helpful, and if you are interested in hosting us to share this presentation, our contact information can be found at the end of the blog.

What should I do to combat the holiday blues?

Get out and about: Ask family and friends for help traveling to parties and events. Invite family and friends over. Taking a brisk walk in the morning before you begin the day – or in the evening to wind down your day – is a great way to beat the blues.

Volunteering to help others is a great mood lifter: To volunteer, contact your local United Way (www.unitedway.org), or call places such as local schools, hospitals, museums or places of worship to inquire about volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

Drink responsibly: It is easy to overindulge around the holidays, but excessive drinking will only make you feel more depressed. Remember that 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor constitutes a single serving of alcohol. The recommended limit for older men is 14 drinks per week and 7 per week for older women. 

Accept your feelings: There’s nothing wrong with not feeling jolly; many people experience sadness and feelings of loss during the holidays. Be kind to yourself, seek support and even laugh at yourself every now and then.

Talk to someone: Don’t underestimate the power of friends, family, mentors, and neighbors. Talk about your feelings; it can help you understand why you feel the way you do. A simple phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice e-mail, greeting card or letter can brighten your mood.

How can you help someone with the holiday blues?

  • Include them, invite them to get-togethers. Consider their needs, such as transportation or special diets.
  • Lend a hand, offer to help someone with their household chores, shopping, cooking and other tasks for get-togethers in their homes.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Be a supportive listener and encourage discussions about feelings and concerns. Acknowledge difficult feelings, including a sense of loss if family or friends have died or moved away. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand how they feel.
  • Encourage them to talk with a healthcare provider.
  • The holidays can cause people to feel anxious and depressed. But for some, holiday tensions can lead to full-blown clinical depression. Often, older adults don’t realize that they are depressed. If you suspect depression in someone you know, you may need to bring it up more than once. Let the person know that depression is a treatable medical condition and to not be ashamed.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • Sadness that won’t lift; loss of interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Frequent crying
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Feeling worthless, helpless, or guilty
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Depression is treatable. Talk to your primary healthcare provider or get other professional help if you experience five or more of these symptoms every day for two weeks. If you have recurring thoughts of death or suicide, you should get help immediately.

During this time, and all year long, it is important for people suffering from mental health conditions and their loved ones to know that mental illness is treatable, and there is no shame in seeking assistance. Remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. And to learn more about Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. Community Reach Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services for all ages at locations in Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Brighton and Broomfield.