When the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, it’s not unusual for some people to feel a little blue. Those winter blues, also known as seasonal affective disorder, can be especially difficult for elderly people, especially if they already struggle with depression or anxiety. How can you or a caregiver help your senior loved one survive the blues this winter? Here are signs to watch for as well as ways to improve those pervasive SAD feelings.
Symptoms of SAD
Pay attention to any changes in mood that a senior may experience, especially if they correspond to the time or season change. Your senior may be experiencing one or more of the following indicators of seasonal affective disorder:
- Change in appetite and energy level
- Mood changes or irritability
- Unusual or worsening fatigue
- Sleepiness during the day
- Weight gain
- Poor concentration
- Loss of interest in activities or socialization
- Aches and pains
If these behaviors are unusual for your loved one, you may want to discuss with a caregiver or medical professional to make sure there are no underlying conditions that could also be causing changes.
Research studies indicate that winter blues can be linked to decreased sunlight or vitamin D deficiency. It stands to reason that getting more natural sunlight (or using a light box if it's too cold outside) and eating foods rich in vitamin D, such as eggs, mushrooms, salmon, and some enriched breakfast cereals, could reduce some of the SAD symptoms. You should encourage your senior to exercise regularly and to eat a healthy diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
Social interaction is incredibly important for seniors who are more likely to be isolated during the winter months where it can be difficult to get out. Look for opportunities to increase socialization from events at your local senior center or in their residential community.
Because the winter blues can overlap the holiday season, you should be sensitive to your loved one’s needs this time of year. Seniors do better when they are familiar with their routine, so try not to upset your loved one’s schedule if you can help it. In addition, continue to visit after the holidays end to ward off that loneliness and isolation that go hand in hand with winter.
If you need more advice to help your senior overcome the winter blues, contact Home Helpers of Drexel Hill. Our team of professionals and caregivers can share resources for improved mental health for your loved one.