In the cold, holiday months, depression is not uncommon. While many people worldwide suffer from seasonal affective disorder, there is an often-forgotten demographic that is particularly prone to depression: the elderly.

According to a study by Genworth Financial, 55% of seniors fear that their long-term care is a burden on their families. As their families continue their daily lives, many seniors are conflicted. While they don’t want to bother their loved ones, many feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness that comes with old age.

“A lot of things happen with aging,” says Dr. Kim Lane, an associate professor of mental health and human services at the University of Maine at Augusta. “There can be the loss of a significant other, the loss of friends and family, the loss of the ability to drive or get out to social events, and the loss of social contact.”

Isolation is among the top causes of depression among older people, according to Dr. Lane. Because these people are often adverse to asking for or receiving help, it can be very difficult to identify their depression.

But in some cases depression isn’t caused by aging. It’s just a fact of life for many people, especially in the winter when short periods of daylight and bad weather prevent us from being active and involved outside the house.
Depression rates increase during the holiday months, caused by the stress of gift giving, social obligations and travel plans. Surviving the winter months is tough on us all, but it’s especially important to make time for your elderly family members and loved ones.

Family gatherings are ideal times to be on the look out for signs of depression in the elderly. As families tend to come closer around the end of the year, there will be a number of eyes on your aging loved ones. Watch out for changes in their sleeping and eating patterns, a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, and difficulty making decisions.

“Don’t be afraid to have the conversation about emotions and feelings if you observe an elderly person you think may be feeling depressed,” says Melissa Stoliker, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Northern Maine Medical Center. “As a person grows older and friends and family pass away, they may not have that regular support system, and they also find themselves facing their own mortality.”

If your loved one is depressed, these conversations are very important and can make a world of difference. In the case of depression, contact a crisis prevention hotline or a therapist in the area.