Fence and trees covered in snow.

Seasonal Affective Disorder In Seniors

Winter can be a beautiful time, featuring soft snowfalls, crisp air, and crystal clear skies. So why do so many people feel down this time of the year? Maybe it is the shorter days or the colder temperatures. Or maybe it’s simply the letdown after a busy holiday season. Whatever is keeping your loved one from enjoying the winter months, rest assured they are not alone. It has been estimated that as many as 60 million people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) –with one-third of them being seniors.

Bad weather coupled with colder temperatures can keep even the most active mature adult feeling isolated and trapped. This can exacerbate the winter doldrums. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to boost their spirits and help them get through this winter happier and healthier.

Get Some Fresh Air and Sunshine

A lack of natural light can severely affect a person’s mood. This is due not only to longer periods of darkness but also to a lack of vitamin D in the body. When Vitamin D levels plummet during the winter months, depression and lethargy can result. Luckily, this is an easy fix. All you need is to spend about 20 minutes three times a week in direct sunlight to feel more energized. A vitamin D supplement can help, too.

Stay Connected

As the winter winds swirl, it can be harder for older individuals to get out, making them feel more isolated and lonely. Staying connected, however, is essential to beating the winter blues. Here are some ideas to help your aging loved one get and stay connected:

  • Use Skype: Video chat services like Skype or FaceTime offer those who can’t get out during bad weather a great way to see their loved ones face-to-face. It’s more than just a conversation aid; if used properly, it can help an aging senior interact with the outside world. Some even use it to play games together online!

  • Schedule Regular Outings with Friends: Suggest a frequent get-together with friends at a favorite coffee shop (weather permitting) or sign up for upcoming events at the local library or senior center.  Carpooling with friends might provide a transportation solution.

  • Call Often: Older adults don’t always reach out, so make it a priority to do it for them! Schedule a regular phone call to check in, or gather some phone numbers of friends so your loved one can pick up the receiver and chat like a teenager again.

Eat Well and Exercise

It can be tempting to load up on carbs and sugary snacks when it’s cold outside, but it is important to stick with healthier choices to curb those wintertime blues. Eating a well-balanced diet can stabilize your mood. According to a study released by the University of Tulsa, even moderate exercise can help decrease signs of depression during the winter months. Spending just 10 minutes a day in the fresh air can lessen the effects of depression.

Stay on Schedule

Schedules aren’t just for kids. Adults need them, too. Seasonal changes have been directly linked to a disruption of the normal wake/sleep cycle, leaving some people feeling sluggish and tired. Sleeping during the day will lead to insomnia, and fatigue can increase depression. The best way to combat this problem is to get on a regular schedule and stick to it.

One way to keep occupied after it gets dark –but before it’s time for bed –is to find an activity to keep your mind and body busy. Some people like to read, crochet or do puzzles during this time, while others prefer to meet up with friends for card games, listen to music or simply catch up.

Helping Seniors Ease Their Way through the Winter

Whether your loved one is a very active senior or spends most of the time indoors, you may notice signs of seasonal depression. They may include the following:

  • A lack of interest in normal activities

  • Unwillingness to leave the house/isolation

  • An unkempt appearance

  • Changes in the appearance of the home

  • Changes in behavior (sadness, anger, frustration, etc.)

  • Fatigue

  • Repeat illnesses

If you notice any of these signs, talk to your loved one’s doctor to see if a medical condition may be the cause or if seasonal depression has set in. It should be noted that dementia patients can be especially vulnerable to SAD. When a person has dementia, even the slightest change in the environment can send him or her reeling. 

Ease anxiety by:

  • Spending More One-on-One Time with Them: Having someone give them more attention can often calm their anxieties and relieve their stress.

  • Getting More Natural Light: Go outside, use a light lamp or simply sit in a sunny window. Just 10 minutes of natural light a day can dramatically increase a person’s mood.

  • Take Melatonin or Vitamin D Supplements: Just be sure to check with the doctor first. 

  • Find Fun Activities to Enjoy: Whether it’s working on a puzzle together, taking a stroller listening to some favorite tunes, having something fun to look forward to may be all that’s necessary to put an end to the winter blues.

Don’t let Old Man Winter stop you and your loved one from enjoying the season. Winter doesn’t have to be something to dread. It is a time to be enjoyed! Learn what those SAD triggers are and find new ways to stay busy for a brighter, happier winter.

One of the greatest things about living in a senior living community is there are plenty of opportunities to keep active and engaged even in winter –and you don’t have to travel through icy streets to meet up with friends.  Call us to schedule a tour and a complimentary lunch. We’d be delighted to show you around!