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Recognizing and combating seasonal depression in seniors

Do your loved ones seem to develop a case of the ‘winter blues’ that lasts till spring? Those winter blues could actually be Seasonal Depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). During the colder winter months, most seniors in the US, especially in the Northern regions, develop some lesser-known health hazards like SAD and Vitamin D deficiency that can have damaging effects on their physical and mental health.

Understanding Seasonal Depression

SAD or seasonal depression is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. It happens when earlier sunsets and colder weather during winter influence our body’s natural circadian rhythm (body clock). SAD is more likely to strike older women than men.

The common signs of SAD in seniors

  • Irritability, anxiety and agitation
  • Lack of energy and increased fatigue
  • Lack of interest in socializing with others
  • Change in sleep pattern 
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Change in appetite

Factors that may increase the risk of Seasonal Depression:

Family history: Your loved ones are more likely to develop SAD if other blood relatives have or have had SAD or other forms of depression.

Major depression or bipolar disorder: Depression may worsen seasonally if your loved one is managing a bipolar disorder.

Living far from the equator: SAD is more common in people living far north or south of the equator. This may be due to lessened sunlight during the winter.

Ways to help seniors fight off seasonal depression:

Increase exposure to sunlight

A great way to balance your loved ones’ body’s sleep-wake cycle is to increase their exposure to the sunlight during the winter. Soaking up natural sunlight can also help boost their mood and mental health.

Keep physically active

Staying physically fit can help beat the winter blues more effectively. Encourage your loved ones to regularly take part in low-impact exercises including walking, yoga, and cycling to keep active.

Consume healthy foods

Since one of the major reasons for SAD is vitamin deficiencies, a well-rounded diet can help fight depression and improve overall health. Berries, leafy greens, and lean protein are great options.

Lighten and brighten up rooms

Another way to lift their moods and fight depression is to brighten up living areas in the home. Open the windows and curtains, turn on all the lights.  House plants also help.

See a doctor

If you notice the symptoms of seasonal depression in your loved ones, don’t hesitate to also consult a doctor. He/she can properly diagnose the cause and also make recommendations that will help your loved ones feel better.

Love, care and support from family caregivers coupled with these tactics tend to produce the best outcomes for seniors coping with SAD.