As winter approaches, the winter blues often rise up in seniors. Families need to understand winter blues and be prepared to help their loved ones stay connected and active during winter months.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a seasonal psychological condition that causes depression-like symptoms when the days get shorter and the nights become longer during the colder seasons. It's common across different age groups and can be incredibly debilitating in the winter months for seniors.
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
While some winter blues are normal, seniors struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder may have a harder time managing the winter months. Noticing the signs of seasonal depression among seniors early can help prevent serious mood disorders or prolonged sadness.
Common winter blues symptoms include:
- Fatigue and decreased energy: Winter months can make seniors more tired than usual and make them feel less motivated to do the things they normally enjoy.
- Loss of interest in one's usual activities: Often, the winter blues may make seniors feel like they just don't have the enthusiasm for their favorite activities as they normally would.
- Unintentional weight gain or loss: Seniors struggling with SAD may find themselves reaching for comfort food more often or have decreased appetite. On the other hand, some winter blues may cause unintended weight loss, as seniors lack the motivation to eat properly.
- Changes in sleeping patterns: Some seniors may struggle to get quality sleep during winter months, leading to increased exhaustion, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed.
- Isolation from family and friends: Seniors may feel too unmotivated or lack the energy to socialize, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression.
- Lack of motivation to do everyday tasks: Seniors may find themselves feeling unmotivated and uninterested in doing routine activities, such as housework or errands
What are the causes of seasonal depression in seniors?
There are many potential causes of winter blues in seniors. Pay close attention to changes in lifestyle and environment that may be causing winter depression in your loved one.
Isolation plays a major role for the elderly struggling with seasonal depression, as staying connected to family and friends is vital to emotional support during this difficult time.
The holidays can often be the most isolating period of the year - not only does seasonal depression affect how we interact with those around us, but physical limitations can prevent seniors from participating in holiday activities or seeing their families. This lack of involvement leads to further feelings of loneliness and despair, worsening the effects of seasonal depression.
For seniors, seasonal changes can bring about more than just a change in weather. It can also mean fluctuations in one's hormone levels and potentially seasonal affective disorder.
While winter brings shorter days of sunlight, decreasing the body's serotonin levels, long summer daylight hours can cause irregular melatonin production. While seasonal depression is common among all age groups, seniors may be more sensitive to seasonal mood swings due to their changing hormone levels.
Lack of Sunshine
Low exposure to natural light during the winter months is one of the main culprits for SAD, as sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythms and plays a fundamental role in feeling energized and keeping a positive mental outlook.
During weeks of decreased sunlight and long cold spells, some seniors may experience lower energy levels and suffer from seasonal depression. The lack of sunshine can lead to trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and reduced participation in normally enjoyed activities.
How to help your loved one through the winter blues
It can be challenging to spot winter blues in seniors, as the symptoms can differ for each individual. But being aware of winter blues and taking the necessary steps to help your loved one can make a world of difference.
Here are some tips on how you can help your senior during the winter months:
- Check in regularly
One of the best things you can do to help a senior loved one through the winter blues is to check in with them regularly. This can be done via phone, text, email, or even video chat. Checking in allows you to stay up-to-date on how they are doing and see if they need any assistance.
- Encourage socialization
Another way to help a senior loved one through the winter blues is to encourage socialization. Socialization can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are common among seniors during the winter months. Try setting up regular coffee dates or inviting them to join you for an activity.
- Be a good listener
Sometimes, all a senior loved one needs is someone to talk to. Be a good listener and allow them to vent about their frustrations or share their happy moments with you. Just being there for them can make a world of difference during the sometimes difficult winter months.
- Promote healthy living
Helping a senior loved one maintain a healthy lifestyle is essential to managing winter blues. Encourage them to stay active, eat nutritious meals, and get enough sleep each night. Keeping their mind and body in top shape can help reduce winter depression symptoms.
We want to hear your voice! Please let us know if you have any other tips on how to help a senior loved one through the winter blues.
We understand this can be a difficult season, and we want to do what we can to make it easier for those we care about.