As winter kicks into full gear, less sunlight and colder weather can leave many of us feeling tired and less enthusiastic for completing normal activities. For around 500,000 Americans, these factors can lead to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can require medical treatment. Another 20 percent will combat a more mild form of SAD called seasonal depression or the “winter blues.”
Older adults are perhaps the most vulnerable to winter blues and SAD, as they are less mobile and not as capable of doing things on their own. Here are some tips to help older adults combat SAD during the winter months and mild depression throughout the year.
Tips to Help Loved Ones Beat the Winter Blue
1. Reminisce Together
Even though most holiday gatherings are over for the season, take the time to visit with older family members. Bring out family videos, photo albums and other artifacts to spark conversation. These positive memories will help turn any feelings of sadness into fun stories.
If you weren’t able to visit with a loved one over the holidays due to distance, video conferencing software like Skype is a great option to connect without straining your budget.
2. Get Physical
Exercise is great for relieving stress, elevating your metabolism and releasing “feel good chemicals” to help improve overall mood. Some ways to get older adults active include simple things like going for a walk or taking a yoga class together. Classes are an excellent way to make physical activity a habit, not just a way to make it through the winter months.
Additionally, outdoor activities are suggested when the weather allows. Due to shorter days and colder weather, many of us do not get much exposure to the sun, which actually releases neurotransmitters in the brain that can affect your mood. Spending some time outdoors can help stimulate this release and increase overall mood.
3. Stay Engaged
Staying busy with fun activities and hobbies is a great way to prevent your loved from dwelling on sad times or losses. Simple things like doing a puzzle together, baking or even doing household chores together can help the two of you bond and prevent family from feeling alone.
Staying engaged not only with family, but the community, is also important in maintaining emotional health. Head out to a community event together, or find a volunteer opportunity the two of you can share. Helping your loved one realized there is still time to engage with friends, mend troubled relationships and create new ones can be a great way to relieve stress.
4. Make Healthy Meals
The foods we eat can have a direct affect on our mood and energy level. Certain foods, such as processed foods and simple carbs, provide a quick rush of energy and then a drop, leaving the consumer feeling worse than before. Cooking healthy meals together is a great way to get in the habit of eating healthy and can help battle SAD. Choose brightly colored vegetables, fruits and beans when selecting a recipe.
Know the Signs of Depression
Depression is a serious mental illness that impacts people of all ages. Around 6 million Americans over the age of 65 suffer from depression, and is even more prevalent in older adults who suffer from a chronic condition.
Symptoms of clinical depression can vary greatly in older adults, but may include:
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Extreme feelings of sadness lasting for more than two weeks
- Withdrawing from loved ones and social situations
- Persistent fidgeting or pacing
- Extreme weight gain/loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide
If you have noticed signs of depression and your efforts to keep your loved one engaged and uplifted are not helping, they may need to seek medical counsel. Clinical depression is often undiagnosed and under-treated in older adults as symptoms often go unrecognized or mistaken for another condition, such as dementia. Find a physician or mental health expert in your area who can help.