The Winter Blues and Seniors
As the winter months drag on, many seniors will fall into a state of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Commonly known as the “winter blues”, this form of depression is caused in part by a lack of sunlight. Days are shorter and tend to be more overcast and cloudy. The temperature is colder, making it harder for seniors to get outside.
There is also a loneliness that follows the festivities of the recent holidays, where more focus is placed on family gatherings and celebrations. These family celebrations can also lead to a lingering sadness remembering the loved ones who are no longer here.
Combined, these situations are a recipe for seasonal depression in seniors. It is estimated that about 15% of the elderly population will suffer SAD this year, with about 5% of those having severe depression that leads to other health issues.
Your senior loved may share their feelings of sadness with you, or they may not. Either way, it’s important to recognize the signs that they may be suffering from seasonal depression.
The signs include:
– sadness or hopelessness that is present on most days and lasts more than two weeks
– social withdrawal
– loss of interest in normal activities
– lack of concentration
– in severe cases, thoughts of suicide
If you start to notice these signs in your elderly loved one, it should be addressed with their caregiver or doctor right away.
SAD is really more than just the “winter blues”, but thankfully with some lifestyle adaptations and easily manageable changes, seasonal depression can often be controlled.
The tips we’ve listed below are useful for combating seasonal depression in seniors.
Brighten Up Their Surroundings
Studies have shown that one of the major contributing factors of SAD is the lack of vitamin D from natural light. Make it part of their daily routine to open up the blinds or curtains. Encourage them to get outside when weather permits, even if it’s just to sit in the sunshine for 15 minutes at a time.
Light box therapy is another way to help with the effects caused by lack of natural light. According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to a 10,000-lux light box for 20 to 30 consecutive minutes in the early part of the day (so as not to disrupt the sleep pattern) is one of the best treatments for SAD.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Cold weather is the season of comfort food…chicken pot pie, cream based soups and stews, pumpkin pie, mac and cheese. The issue with many comfort foods, however, is that they tend to be full of fat and carbohydrates and loaded with sugar. One of the side effects of SAD is an increase in cravings for carbs.
There’s no harm in indulging in a treat occasionally, but a healthy diet can help ward off those winter blues by keeping energy levels high. It’s important to maintain a diet that is vitamin and mineral rich with lots of vegetables and fruit.
Some foods that have been proven to help combat SAD include:
– Dark Chocolate
– Greek yogurt
– Pumpkin seeds
– Green tea
– Brazil nuts
Motivation to exercise is a tough one for seniors under most circumstances, and this motivation only decreases during winter months. Regular exercise is a natural mood enhancer, even in short spurts. It also helps to support overall cognitive function. Moderate daily exercise like short walks outdoors or swimming indoors is a good place to start. Any exercise that raises the heart rate is recommended, including daily chores.
Stay Socially Connected
Seniors who stay connected with others socially also report having better mental health. Unfortunately during winter months, the desire to be a social butterfly decreases dramatically. Add in the current ongoing pandemic, and you have a recipe for isolation and loneliness. It’s important that you stay connected with your senior loved one via phone or video calls, and regular visits as long as current COVID-19 CDC guidelines are followed.
Following the guidelines above will help a great deal when dealing with a loved one who is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. At Terrace Ridge, we provide healthy meals and 24 hour snacks to the residents in our community, as well as outdoor exercise areas and event planning to help keep seniors active and connected. Contact us today to learn more.