Make the Season Brighter

For many older adults, the magic of the winter holidays has nothing to do with presents, but with presence.

Most of us anticipate with a feeling of excitement the opportunity to share the holidays with our loved ones near and far, even if we aren’t there with them.

We celebrate traditions, special meals, holiday treats and catching up with our family members who travel great (or small) distances to be together and reach out to those with whom we can’t be together.

Unfortunately, it is not all moments of cheer for some, often particularly our elder loved ones. Far too many of our seniors find the holiday season to be a time of remembering losses and feeling sad or depressed.

Traditions change as we transition from childhood to adulthood and into elderhood.  We can create new traditions with our aging loved ones this holiday season. Talk together about the feelings they are having. Sharing these feelings and knowing that someone is listening to them can make seniors feel much better.

Why is Mom So Sad?

Not to get you down over the holidays, but to make you aware of what might be happening around you, here are some statistics on depression.

  • 15 out of 100 adults over 65 suffer from depression impacting 6 million Americans over 65
  • 15-20% of older adults who live in our communities suffer from depression
  • 25-35% of older adults who live in long-term care facilities have symptoms of depression, this number has been estimated to actually be nearer 50%
  • An estimated 2 million adults over 65 in the US have a diagnosable clinical depression
  • 25% of those with chronic disease suffer from depression

Depression, however, is NOT a result of aging as many people believe. We can age without becoming depressed.  Depression can happen to anyone, at any time and any age. Many people don’t seek help because they may feel that it won’t help because whatever is causing the depression will continue. Depression can have many causes such as the death of a spouse or close family member, a severe illness or chronic pain, loss in independence, and loneliness.

Untreated depression in the elderly can lead to a variety of problems, including alcoholism, substance abuse, and even suicide. Someone living with severe pain and depression is four times more likely to attempt suicide.

Every 100 minutes an older adult dies by suicide – – the highest overall death rate of any age group.

Family Activities to Keep the Blues Away
  1. We can help keep older adult loved ones from being part of the statistics by helping them fight off depression over the holidays.
  2. Play favorite music and classic movies during the holiday season to bring smiles instead of frowns.
  3. Technology can create connections!  Set up Skype video calls or Facetime with family members who can’t visit for the holidays so that family can connect, and sing, laugh and share stories together.  This is a meaningful gift to give to one another!
  4. Spend one-on-one time with an elder adult. Find fun things to do to occupy them throughout the season and shortly afterward so that they don’t have time to let their mind dwell on sad times or losses they experience.
  • Make cookies
  • Take a nature walk
  • Write holiday cards and notes
  • Play a game
  • Visit a museum
  • Go to a local event like a parade or church choir
  • Take in a holiday movie
  • Drive around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights and decorations
  • Do a craft project
  • Plan the family meal and shop together
  • Get together to watch old comedy shows that bring a chuckle, like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners or Laurel and Hardy. Many of these shows can be found on the TV, in DVD form or streamed from the internet. Use these programs to open dialogue to engage their mind and relive memories.
  • Get physical! Go for a walk, dance, hula hoop, go bowling, toss around a ball, chase your dog, or any other physical activity your elder adult loved one can safely participate with other family members. Make it a habit, not just one you do during the holiday. Staying physically active will help keep your senior mentally fit as well.

Remember, depression can have real, negative physical effects on older adults, including fatigue, withdrawing from activities, sadness, abnormal sleep patterns, anxiety or irritability, use of alcohol or drugs, or suicidal thoughts. We can help them avoid it, though.

Keeping your older loved one engaged, being observant to signs of depression and seeking help when it is needed will keep the blues away not just during the holidays but all year long!


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

FIVE really cool gifts to buy for Grandma and Grandpa!

Black Friday  is at the end of this week after Thanksgiving.  What to get for grandma and grandpa?    The lists of things to buy are usually lotions, and socks, and slippers, and grocery gift cards – all which are good!   But I was thinking…. what do elders really want?

My grandchildren say I am ‘really cool’ because I stay connected with them on Facebook, Instagram, texting, phone, and Snapchat.   I don’t know about cool, but I am grateful that in my elder years I can continue to be part of the greater community and my family even when the day comes that I cannot travel as I can now. So I asked the elders I come in contact with around the United States What do you want?   And their answers were the same as mine!

  • To spend quality time with friends and family.
  • To have a purposeful life.
  • To maintain independence in choice.
  • To  continue learning and growing.
  • To have joy and spontaneity.
  • To have peace of mind.

The greatest gift you can give is a way for your loved one to stay connected.   You might be surprised how savvy elders can be with a quick tutorial on tablets and iPads and smart phones.

There are some things that are important to consider, if you are thinking about technology gifts.

  • Wi-fi must be set up in the senior’s home.  If living in a senior housing community, most have free wi-fi.
  • It is important to have someone to to tutor and  build a relationship during the learning process to navigate the device.  Grandchildren, friends, or if in a Senior housing community, the Millennial care-team members and their volunteer teams are great resources.

FIVE REALLY COOL GIFTS FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA

  1. TABLETS AND IPADS: These all-in-one devices are in many ways perfect for seniors with their touch-screen technology and large print options.   The touch screen allows the elder to access apps easily with a tap of the finger.
  • Facebook–  In our senior housing communities, I have seen the joy on the faces of elders who are connecting with Facebook website on computer screengrandchildren and long lost friends.  One of our Millennial care team members showed an 87 year old elder how to do a video chat on Facebook with her son.  It made her day!   The next morning, when I came into the community, she told me, “I got 8 likes last night!”  Friends she had not connected with in 40 years had found her and connected!
  • Learning and researching–  I talked with a 92 year old man  sitting in the living room with earphones and the tablet watching youtube videos about how to care for plants, as he advised us on the landscaping.  He told me, “This has opened a world of new information to me!”
  • Google earth– Want to ‘walk down the street’ of your childhood home, or visit places in the world?  Some of our teams have hooked a laptop or a tablet to a computer and taken a tour of the world. One woman, who was born in France was able to virtually visit her home town!
  • Cost: Tablets cost between $129$300 depending on the brand.

2.  SMART PHONE: Phones are not only important for keeping the social connection, and necessary for quality of life — but also give elders peace of mind. Many smartphones  offer large buttons, speed dial, visual rings and more.

  •  Samsung Jitterbug is available on Amazon.com for $60.
  •  If your family has a a ‘family plan’ with your provider, you can add grandma or grandpa for $20 – $40  a month, and purchase the phone on an installment plan.
  • Several residents and care team members were chatting with Mrs. Jackson who had just received  a new iPhone from her family.   Jasmine, a care team member,  talked about ‘Face time’, so  we asked Mrs. Jackson if she had her grandson’s phone number in her phone.  She did, and Jasmine showed her how to make a Facetime call.  When the grandson answered he saw faces of  of his grandma and all of her friends and  care team members  excited about the connection!
  • Add ear phones to the gift, and show grandma or grandpa how to access their favorite music too!

3. DIGITAL PHOTOS:  With most of our photos on social media these days, we don’t often take the time to print photos.

  • Digital photo frames are available from $34 to about $110 (which also supports video), depending on what size and capacity you want.
  • Another nice option is to use Shutterfly, where you can upload your photos from Facebook or other social media, or directly from your phone or computer to create a traditional photo album with captions. The photo book  can be mailed directly to your grandpa and grandma to enjoy.  Depending on the size of the book, the cost can be $25 – and up.

4.  IPOD OR MP3 PLAYER & HEADPHONESStudies have proven that music has a powerful therapeutic benefit for all people, and particularly elders.

  • Purchase head phones for $15+ depending on the quality.
  • Purchase an MP3 player or iPod shuffle.  The cost is between $20-$50.
  • Download a song list of music you know that your grandparent loves.

If you haven’t seen the documentary ‘Alive Inside’, it is available on Netflix, and we have seen the power of music to alleviate depression, improve memory, and enhance life!

5.  AMAZON ECHO DOT: Cost  $50.   This is my newest best friend, and I have one in my home office.    In the morning I can say, “Alexa good morning, what is the weather like today?”  She gives a weather forecast.  I can ask what the time is.  I can ask Alexa to play my favorite music.  I can even order through my Amazon Prime account.  “Alexa, add sugar to my cart”.    I can also say, “Alexa, tell me a joke” (they are not very funny!), or “Alexa, what’s in the headlines today?  or  “Alexa set a timer for 10 minutes”.   This week, as I was experimenting with this, I thought this might  be nice for an elder to have in his or her home, especially if visually impaired.  If you have a ‘smart home’, you can also say, “Alexa, turn on the lights in the living room”, or  “Alexa, lock the front door.”

I found a funny video of elders learning to talk with Alexa.

I had to add this  to my “Cool list” today


Technology is here to stay, and the elders I talk with are excited about the possibilities of leading a more vibrant connected life in this new era.  Yes, some say, “I am too old for this.”   But as soon as a connection is made, it is amazing to see how purpose, connection, spontaneity, and joy is evident in their lives!

Another documentary available on Netflix I have been following is ‘Cyber Seniors”  watch the trailer here.   Happy Holiday Shopping!


11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author:    Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living.  Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.