Tiny Tim - the ailing child in “A Christmas Carol” - is the image that may materialize when we picture the less fortunate at Christmas, said Dr. Scott Gibson, assistant professor of medicine (geriatrics).
“But what about Ebenezer Scrooge?” Gibson said during Thursday's presentation, “Holidays and the Elderly.”
Gibson, along with Sue Ann Meng, geriatrics social worker, led dozens of UMMC health-care professionals in the discussion, the latest in the series of Schwartz Center Rounds sessions designed to promote compassionate care and strengthen caregiver-patient relations.
The two identified ways to help relatives and patients cope with a time of year that proves difficult for many as they grow older and, at times, more Scrooge-like.
“Underneath the gruff exterior is someone with feelings,” Gibson said.
Like the fictional Scrooge, many of the elderly spend the holidays estranged from family members while reliving old Christmas memories. For those reasons and more they are susceptible to depression, anxiety and chronic insomnia, especially those who live alone or in personal-care homes.
“They have long histories and memories - good and bad,” Gibson said. “The loss of loved ones changes how they view the holidays.”
To lighten this burden of “holiday blues,” Gibson suggested that health-care professionals and other caregivers:
- Share the load with other family members or staff
- Present elderly patients with Christmas cards or small gifts
- Involve these older adults in activities that include small children
- Resist the urge to offer your advice
- Include aging parents or other relatives in decision-making
One of Gibson's patients, Robert Cawthorn of Brandon, is the opposite of the unredeemed Scrooge. He and his wife Judy love the holidays, a time when they are able to be with their three grown daughters and 13 grandchildren.
“But it's hard on some of my long-time friends,” said Cawthorn, 77. “Also, I lost my parents when I was 8. And my wife has lost hers. Something will happen that reminds us of what we used to do with our parents during the holidays.
“Certainly, you wish your folks were still with you. It's a little sad. Holidays bring back memories, but they are also sweet memories.”