As caregivers, if you notice a drop in energy and signs of depression in a loved one once cold weather hits, they may be experiencing the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD, also known as seasonal depression, is a form of depression that typically occurs when fall begins, and ends when spring or summer arrives. A milder version of SAD is known as the winter blues.
If your senior loved one is experiencing feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in their daily activities, there are many treatments that can help.
Let’s explore the symptoms of SAD, the causes, and how to deal with seasonal depression and the winter blues.
What Triggers Seasonal Depression and the Winter Blues?
Seasonal affective disorder often is triggered by a change in season.
Usually, this occurs when summer turns into fall. There also is a form of summer depression, but this is less common.
Seasonal depression often gets worse during the winter months, and begins to improve once spring arrives.
A milder, more widely experienced version of SAD is called the winter blues. It’s common to feel down in winter due to the changes in daylight and less time outdoors in cold weather.
However, unlike the winter blues, SAD is a true form of depression that affects the ways we think and feel.
How Common is Seasonal Depression?
SAD is more common in women and younger people, although it can affect anyone at any age. About 5% of adults in the U.S. have seasonal depression.
Winter blues, on the other hand, affects about 10% to 20% of people. If your loved one experiences any level of sadness during the winter months, they are far from alone.
Studies have shown that you have a higher risk of developing SAD if any of the following are true:
- You live in higher latitudes, farther north of the equator
- You live in more cloudy regions
- You have another mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder
- You have relatives with mental health conditions
Let’s take a look at the common signs and symptoms that your senior loved one is struggling with SAD.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Depression?
Since SAD is a form of depression, the symptoms are similar to those of depression.
These symptoms might include:
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Anxiety or irritability
- Loss of interest in daily activities, hobbies, and social activities
- Sleeping more or trouble sleeping
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Trouble concentrating
Experts aren’t sure what exactly causes these symptoms of seasonal depression, but believe that the lack of sunlight in winter may trigger them in susceptible people.
If your loved one is struggling with these symptoms, take them to their doctor for evaluation.
The doctor can perform an evaluation and tests to determine whether the cause is due to SAD or another illness or nutrient deficiency.
How to Deal with Seasonal Depression: Tips to Comfort and Soothe Loved Ones
Your loved one’s doctor will recommend the best treatments for their seasonal depression or winter blues, including any medications or supplements.
Beyond these treatments, there are other home remedies and lifestyle changes that can provide comfort and boost moods.
Prepare Your Loved One in the Fall
If symptoms kick in like clockwork every year, there may be some intervention required.
You can help prepare your loved one for the long winter months by putting a plan in place.
Try to help your loved one stay as active and engaged as possible leading up to the winter months, so once the cold sets in, there are some new activities, hobbies, and routines established.
Incorporate More Exercise and Social Activity
Exercise can help with symptoms of depression, and SAD is no exception.
Encourage your loved one to participate in some form of movement daily, whether it be a brief walk, tai chi, or yoga.
If it’s too cold or icy to go outside for long periods of time, a treadmill or stationary bike placed next to a window might help. Plus, yoga and tai chi are great indoor activities as well.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to cold and flu season, it can be difficult to get our fill of social activity. Fortunately, there are still many ways to stay connected and safe.
Consider planned, frequent FaceTime or Zoom calls, and social distanced activities.
Soothe the Mind with Music or Meditation
Taking into account your loved one’s personal preferences, consider the types of soothing activities that can help provide comfort during the winter blues.
This might include personalized music playlists, meditation or prayer, beloved films, or photos and scrapbooks.
Some people also find aromatherapy to be a relaxing activity.
Consider Light Therapy
Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is performed using a light box within the first hour of waking up each day.
There isn’t a lot of research available for light therapy, but the studies that exist show it can be effective for those with SAD.
The light from the special boxes can potentially boost moods by mimicking daylight.
Although your loved one may be experiencing changes in appetite, try to stick with a healthy, balanced diet so they can get the nutrients they need.
Experts often recommend the Mediterranean diet for overall health and wellness, as it consists of heart-healthy and brain-boosting foods.
How Kensington Park Senior Living Supports Those With SAD
If your senior parent or loved one is experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression, they are not alone.
As the child or caregiver of your loved one, you may find that it’s difficult to deal with seasonal depression while at home. Sometimes, the best plan is moving to a senior living community that can provide on-site daily activities and wellness programs.
Kensington Park Senior Living is passionate about providing our residents with a safe, comforting space to call home.
Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own.
Your loved one’s health, safety, happiness, and overall quality of life are our top priorities.
Kensington Park understands the challenges of how to deal with seasonal depression. We can provide your loved one with the care they need to feel their best and brightest selves.