Ways to Cope with Winter Depression
Staying healthy during the winter can be a challenge for anyone, but can be especially difficult for older adults with compromised immune systems, limited mobility, or a less than a clear state of mind. Did you know the changing of seasons has a tangible effect on your mental well-being? Winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder, is a very real thing. In this article, we will go over what winter depression is, why seniors are more likely to experience it, and methods to help them avoid or manage it.
What is Winter Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder)?
This is a type of depression that is brought on by the changing of seasons, usually starting in the fall and continuing into winter – hence the alternate name: winter depression. Surprisingly enough, there are some seniors who experience this seasonal depression starting in the spring and continuing into summer, but it is much less common. The most notable symptoms of winter depression are:
Feeling sad or down most of the day, especially on a particularly cold or gloomy day
Oversleeping, or not wanting to get out of bed in the morning
Overeating, weight gain, and specific cravings for carbohydrates
Low energy and tiredness
Feelings of guilt for losing interest in beloved activities and not accomplishing more throughout the day
It’s important to note, there is a significant difference between the “winter blues” and winter depression. Occasionally feeling a bit sad when it gets colder and darker is expected, while true winter depression results in a severe lack of motivation and can leave people feeling down for at least several days at a time. If you are noticing these changes in your senior loved one, as well as changing patterns in their sleeping, appetite, or alcohol consumption – it is time to alert their primary care physician.
Why are Seniors More Susceptible to Winter Depression?
Seniors can be more susceptible to winter depression for two major reasons. One being their aversion or sensitivity to the cold, and the other, perhaps most important reason being their lack of social connections. Checking in on your senior loved one should be a top priority during the cold winter months, especially if they are living alone. If you are afraid your senior parent is a candidate for winter depression, there are ways to keep this disorder at bay.
Methods to Avoid Winter Depression in Seniors
Encourage seniors to eat healthily. If your loved one is struggling with meal preparation in the winter, try to choose frozen vegetables over canned ones, and encourage them to eat plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables like cranberries, citrus, and pomegranates. They should also include fish, poultry, and eggs into their diet for healthy, lean protein on a daily basis. If mom or dad struggles with getting their groceries in darker, colder, or wintry weather, see if family, friends, or caregivers are able to help with the shopping or get them set up for online grocery delivery.
Take their vitamins daily. Seniors tend to be more vitamin D deficient in the colder weather, due to lack of sun exposure by staying indoors more often. Daily vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and fish oil tablets are all good supplements to have on hand for your loved one.
Exercise outdoors with precautions. If your loved one’s healthcare provider gives the go-ahead, there’s no reason why they can’t continue exercising outdoors with a few precautions. Ensure they wear proper footwear to prevent slips and falls, layer warm clothing, and be sure to check the weather before heading outside.
Stay in touch. As we briefly mentioned, it can be easy for seniors to withdraw and become isolated during the winter. This is because it requires more effort to leave the house and socialize with others in cold weather conditions. Watch out for these symptoms in your loved ones and keep them at bay by arranging a daily check-in system with nearby family and friends.