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Signs of winter depression in our elderly and ways to tame the disorder
Change in the season can trigger depression and mood swings in our elderly. While many of us can adjust to seasonal changes, our elderly often find it difficult to remain active and cheerful. Often described as seasonal affective disorder, winter depression can take a toll on our elderly’s health.
Winter months may seem to be gloomy and can dampen the spirits of our elderly parents. If you notice that your parents become gloomy and are unable to perform their daily tasks by themselves, but however they seem to become their usual self during other seasons, indicates that they may be suffering from the seasonal affective disorder. We may often tend to ignore the symptoms of winter depression, but seeking treatment at the right time, can prevent the condition from getting worse.
Causes of winter depression
While seasonal affective disorder, can occur in any season, the winter season is the one that affects the elderly the most. The exact cause of winter depression is not known, but it is believed that less sunlight can be the major contributing factor. It is thought that cloudy, short days and continuous rainfall or snowfall, can significantly interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm. Moreover, such changes can also significantly alter the body’s serotonin levels. Serotonin is basically a brain hormone, which affects our mood. A deficiency in this hormone can significantly affect the sleep as well as the appetite of our elderly.
In addition, it is also believed that the production of melatonin speeds up when the days are short and there is little to no sunlight. Our brain produces melatonin, during the night hours, to enable us to seep properly throughout the night. When there is sunlight during the daytime, the brain stops the productions of melatonin, which helps in keeping us alert. However, during the winter season, when the days are short and dark, there is excessive production of melatonin, causing our elderly to feel sleepy and gloomy throughout the day.
Symptoms of winter depression
In order to initiate treatment at the right time, it is extremely important to recognize the signs and symptoms of winter depression. The following are the symptoms of winter depression:
- Change in the appetite
- Having low energy levels
- Undue fatigue, feeling tired for no apparent reason
- Excessive desire to sleep throughout the day
- Gain in weight
- Poor concentration
- Feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
- Loss of interest in socializing
- Lack of self-esteem
- Pain and aches in the body
- Irritable mood, anxiety, and stress
Winter depression and our elderly
It seems that our elderly loved ones are most affected by winter depression. During winter months, the elderly become intolerant to cold, are less mobile and their underlying disease conditions become aggravated. In addition, due to gloomy and dark weather, the elderly are also unable to move out more freely, causing them to remain confined in their homes. Moreover, if the elderly are already suffering from depression, then it is bound to become worse during the winter months. All these factors put together, make winter depression, almost an inevitable accompaniment of old age.
Tips to help seniors with seasonal depression
Seasonal depression in the elderly is much more of a serious problem than one can think of. Here are certain tips, that you can try to ease the symptoms of seasonal depression, to make our elderly comfortable.
Natural sunlight – the natural healer
One of the best ways to combat seasonal depression is to get as much natural sunlight as possible. This would help your elderly feel more energetic and also drive away the gloomy feeling. Getting sunlight, even though in small amounts, helps in dramatically improving the serotonin levels, thereby uplifting their mood levels. In order to get sunlight, it is necessary that the elderly have their regular cup of coffee in the garden, provided they can keep themselves appropriately warm. During the day you can also consider keeping the curtains open so that you can allow the maximum amount of sunlight to enter the room.
This is one of the most common and effective methods of easing seasonal depression. There are light boxes which mimic the light of the sunlight and can help the elderly fight winter depression. Seniors need to simply spend about half an hour each day to drive away the depression blues and feel better.
This is yet another way of driving away the blues of seasonal depression. If your elderly are able to exercise in natural sunlight, then it would be extremely beneficial. Research has proved that exercise alone is capable of treating mild to moderate depression, and its effectiveness is equivalent to taking antidepressant medications. By exercising regularly, you allow your brain to improve all the feel-good hormones like serotonin as well as endorphins. Help your elderly to make exercise a part of their daily routine, to fight seasonal depression.
Say goodbye to stress
Stress is one of the factors that is recognized for triggering bouts of depression. It is one of those factors, that can worsen depression and make matters worse for our elderly. Therefore, as caregivers, you need to encourage your elderly to adopt ways to fight stress and keep depression at bay. Encourage your elderly to indulge in activities that give them pleasure and allows them to relax and have fun.
Depression is one such condition, that can make your elderly crave for high calorie and sugar-rich foods. Basically, depression triggers one’s sweet tooth, causing the individual to reach for desserts and stuff that are loaded with sugar. Overconsumption of starchy and sugar-rich foods can drastically affect the mood levels of our elderly. It would be therefore wise enough, to help our elderly make informed food choices, and adhere to a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet would ensure, that our elderly get the adequate nutrients in the right amount, to maintain optimum energy levels.
Winter depression is certainly not an uncommon phenomenon, but is often underrated and regarded as normal woes of old age. However, it is much more than that, and as a caregiver, it becomes our responsibility to help our elderly fight away the winter depression blues. Being depressed and feeling low and inactive and exhibiting the inability to carry out daily activities, should not be taken as a normal phenomenon. Any form of help extended at the right time can allow our seniors to enjoy the winter months gracefully. Also, here is another blog post that might help to explain why seniors are always so cold.