Are the Winter Months Affecting Your Loved One's Mental Health?

Know the Signs

No matter what time of year it is, symptoms of depression and other mental health issues are important to watch for. However, winter poses more risks for seniors. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during the winter months. Thought to be caused by a lack of sunlight and vitamin D, seasonal depression can have an increased impact on those who already have depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia or other mental health diagnoses.


Symptoms of SAD include:

●  Feeling depressed, hopeless or worthless

●  Trouble sleeping

●  Sluggishness

●  Social withdrawal

●  Loss of interest in activities

●  Craving for carbohydrates


The tricky thing about SAD (or any mental health disorder) is that your loved one may not approach you about these feelings. In fact, they may not even be aware that they’re being affected. Plus, depression may look like “normal aging.” But slowing down, staying in more and memory loss could potentially be symptoms of depression.

Depression can be easy to overlook. It’s important to be vigilant about any changes in your loved one, so that you can get them the help they need.


Spend Time in the Sunlight

Doctors recommend getting at least 10 - 15 minutes of SPF-free exposure to sunlight per day. But when the clock falls back and wintry weather rolls in, it can be difficult, no matter what age you are. For seniors who may have trouble getting around in icy conditions, seeing the winter sun can be even more challenging.

Make an effort to get your loved one in the sun, even if only for a short time. This could mean getting bundled up and taking a short stroll, birdwatching in the backyard, or simply opening the shades and soaking up some natural light.

If that’s not possible, consider investing in a light therapy lamp. While light therapy lamps can give you crucial sunlight exposure, it’s best for your loved one to speak to their physician before using a light therapy lamp, especially if they have glaucoma, cataracts or other vision problems.


Get More Vitamin D

The reason soaking up the sun is so important in the winter is that it helps us get our daily dose of vitamin D. Deficiency in vitamin D can lead to a host of health problems, including cognitive impairment in older adults.

Along with getting more sunlight, you can double down on vitamin D by fortifying your loved one’s diet. Boost their vitamin D intake with eggs (including the yolk), fortified foods like orange juice, milk and cereal, and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and tuna. Of course, you can also offer your loved one a vitamin D supplement as well.


Prevent Sundowning

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, you probably know that sundowning is a phenomenon that occurs during the evening hours. It can lead to agitation, confusion, anger and memory loss, and can be extremely stressful for both your loved one and you. 

The change in light patterns when the clock falls back can be a trigger for sundowning. While it may not be entirely avoidable, there are some steps you may be able to take to attempt to lessen the severity of sundowning for loved ones. Keep them on a regular schedule, and don’t allow them to sleep in the afternoons or close to bedtime. Allow as much natural light in during the day as possible, and keep your home environment calm and relaxing during the evening hours.


Stay Engaged

Someone who’s feeling down may not want to get out of the house or participate in activities. But it’s important for your loved one to get regular social interaction and cognitive stimulation. Invite them for dinner at their favorite restaurant, or take them for a cup of coffee at the local cafe. Go for a walk together, or take a class. Anything that gets your loved one up and out of the house can make a huge impact.

You can also find local classes or programs for your loved one to attend. One excellent resource for finding nearby activities and services is your local Agency on Aging. Check out the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and find your local branch to learn about what programs are near you.

The above content is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you have a medical condition.  The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.

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