If you are a caretaker of an aging loved one, the winter season can be a tough time for everyone. You may see changes in their mood and behavior, as this time of year can bring on many challenges for seniors, including increased isolation and falls due to icy conditions. As the weather gets colder, days shorter, and road conditions more dangerous, many people, including seniors, find themselves indoors and confined for long periods of time, thus leading to feelings of seclusion and prolonged unhappiness.
Seasonal depression, especially in older people, can be associated with cognitive decline and can be harder to diagnose because the elderly are less willing to speak up about their symptoms than younger adults. Also, with senior citizens, the symptoms of depression and dementia can be similar. With depression, the memory of dates and awareness of the environment remain intact, while dementia symptoms display mental decline, disorientation, and confusion, and can also express writing and speaking impairment. Luckily, emotions of seasonal depression, if identified properly, can be treated with the right care.
Recognizing symptoms of seasonal depression is the first step to treatment. Below are six signs of depression:
- Loss of energy and a greater need for sleep
- Increased appetite/weight gain
- Enhanced feelings of fatigue
- The desire to be alone
- Body aches
If a loved one, or even you, is suffering from mild seasonal depression, below are steps you can take to improve and help alleviate these symptoms.
Exercise – Weather permitting, a slow stroll through the neighborhood can do wonders for one’s mood. Getting fresh air, especially on sunny days, can be a great attitude boost and helps with vitamin D absorption. Exercise increases circulation and, with companions, can be a great treatment for senior citizens. Please bear in mind physical limitations.
Decorating – Decorating an elderly loved one’s home can be a small way to enhance the spirit and livelihood of a space. Small changes can make an interior feel festive and happy for those living in it, especially if they have few chances to leave due to weather conditions.
Baking – Baking sweet treats with a loved one and distributing them to neighbors, friends, and family is a great way to get seniors involved in a low-impact activity, boost morale and do something nice for those in their life.
Companionship – For those who rely on a caregiver, sometimes it becomes more difficult to meet with friends or support. Companionship for loved ones is extremely important and can provide many benefits including preventing loneliness, avoiding social isolation, and maintaining social skills, increasing a sense of purpose and encouraging a healthy mental stimulation. Hopkinton Home Care provides an extensive companionship program if you are looking for support.
Monitoring nutrition – While a change in diet alone cannot cure depression, a healthy diet can ease these feelings and can be beneficial in the overall treatment of seasonal depression. A diet high in nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals is a good way to provide the body with necessary tools to support repair. Be aware if an elderly relative is taking any specific medication and the influence that certain foods may have on its effectiveness.
Exposure to light – While natural sunlight is best for our bodies to function at the optimal level, fluorescent lights can help with seasonal affective disorder. Regular exposure to light can lift moods and significantly improve mild depression. Light therapy, also called phototherapy, is safe and well-tolerated among those suffering from depression.
These simple tools, alone or combined, are a great way for seniors to better their disposition during these cold months. For elderly loved ones who are suffering from severe seasonal affective disorder, greater measures may need to be taken. Treatments such as counseling and antidepressant therapy are resources available when simple lifestyle changes are not enough to alleviate feelings of seasonal depression. If unsure, contact your loved one’s doctor to discuss options, as these change from individual to individual.
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