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Do you seem to develop a case of the “winter blues” that won’t go away until spring arrives each year? If so, it might be seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and more than just a post-holiday slump. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 experience depression, and symptoms may worsen seasonally if you have SAD, especially for those who live farther north.
While less sunlight combined with spending more time indoors can increase feelings of sadness in the wintertime, you should be on the lookout for recurrent episodes of depression in late fall and winter.
Recognizing the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If mood changes last for two or more weeks, it might be time to seek help. In addition to sadness, caregivers should be aware of the following signs of SAD in themselves or a loved one:
- Irritability, anxiety, and agitation
- Loss of energy and excessive fatigue
- Lack of interest in socializing with others
- Change in sleep pattern—sleeping too much or too little
- Unintended weight loss or weight gain
- Change in appetite, including cravings for carbohydrates
Exhibiting more than one or two of these symptoms is something that should likely be discussed with a physician. SAD often requires medical intervention.
Treating Seasonal Blues and Cabin Fever
If you’re feeling a little blue this winter, there are steps you can take that might help lift your spirits and kick cabin fever.
- Go outside: A lack of exposure to sunlight can disrupt the body’s sleep-wake cycle. One way to feel better is to bundle up, put on skid-free boots, and head outdoors. Soaking up natural light can boost mood and reset your body clock.
- Increase physical activity: Staying physically active and fit can help beat the blues any time of year. Low-impact exercises like walking, chair yoga, and swimming are all options to explore.
- Eat a healthy diet: Since the blues may be the result of vitamin deficiencies, a well-rounded diet may improve symptoms. Leafy greens, berries, and lean protein can all help.
- Lighten up: Another idea is to brighten up the rooms where you and your loved one spend the most time during the winter. Open the blinds and curtains and turn on all the lights. Green plants also help.
- Light therapy: Our final tip is to use a “light box” for 30 to 45 minutes a day. You should discuss this with your primary care physician before beginning. These devices emit non-damaging UV rays that mimic natural sunlight and can help regulate brain chemicals that often become unbalanced during the winter.