Does your aging parent or a senior in your family have a case of the “winter blues” they just can’t seem to shake? More than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 55 are impacted by seasonal depression. Shorter days, less sunlight, and more time spent indoors can increase feelings of sadness in the wintertime.
This change in mood could be a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, also referred to as SAD. It primarily occurs during colder months.
Recognizing the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors
If your loved one’s depressed mood has lasted for two weeks or more, it is probably time to seek professional help. Mayo Clinic warns caregivers to look for the following symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
- Unintentional weight gain or weight loss
- Anger, irritability, or agitation
- Fatigue or low energy
- Difficulty socializing
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Trouble falling asleep, insomnia, or oversleeping
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for carbohydrates
If the symptoms outlined above could describe your senior loved one, you probably need to take action. Here are a few ideas that may be useful.
How Family Members Can Help a Seniors with SAD
- Get outside: A lack of sunlight, common in most parts of the world in winter, disrupts the sleep-wake cycle and brain chemicals. One way to help an older loved one feel better is to get outdoors each day. Accompany your loved one on a stroll around their neighborhood. Soaking up natural light helps to reset vitamin D levels and boost mood.
- Open the blinds: Brighten up the spaces where your loved one spends most of his or her time. Open blinds and curtains to allow sunlight into rooms. Turn on all of the lights. It might also help to add plants and greenery to the home to simulate a more natural environment.
- Consider light therapy: Using a light therapy lamp for 30 to 45 minutes a day can bring relief to seniors struggling with seasonal depression, says Harvard Medical School. These devices give off nondamaging UV rays that mimic natural sunlight and help regulate brain chemicals.
- Promote an active lifestyle: Staying physically active may help your loved one manage his or her SAD symptoms. Chair stretches and low-impact exercises like swimming at a local fitness club not only help seniors feel vital, but can also alleviate symptoms of depression.
- Eat a healthy diet: Since some experts believe SAD may be a result of vitamin deficiencies, consuming a well-rounded diet rich in nutrients may also lessen symptoms. Encourage the senior to prioritize fruits, vegetables, and lean protein in their diet.
- Encourage mindfulness: Try to urge your senior family member to engage in activities like meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga, which are offered at many senior living communities. Because they nurture the body, mind, and spirit, they often help combat depression.
If you suspect your loved one is struggling with seasonal affective disorder, encourage them to schedule an appointment to talk to their doctor. They are the most qualified to evaluate the situation and determine a course of treatment.
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