8 tips for dealing with winter blues in elderly

Dark mornings and even darker evenings with chilly grey days in between means winter is here — and with the cold season comes the winter blues.

If you or your loved one struggle with the “winter blues” you know how difficult it can be to make it through the holiday season. Although winter does bring in the festive holidays it also means less sunlight, shorter days and colder weather. As a result it leads to reduced physical activity, more sleep, less interest in activities, social withdrawal, unhealthy eating and a general sense of feeling low.

This condition is termed medically as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it can happen at the onset of any season. However, winter depression or winter blues are the most common. Serotonin and melatonin levels both drop significantly which causes major changes in sleep and mood—two critical components of overall health and wellness.

During winter months many elderly may find themselves feeling low and down, it can be due to reduced sunlight, shorter days, and the holidays coming to an end or they could be missing their loved ones.

Here are a few tips for elderly to follow which will help in dealing with low mood during the winter months –

1) Brighten up the surroundings- allowing enough sunlight into the home can help brighten up the mood instantly, intake of Vitamin D from natural light works as a mood enhancer and it is also good for overall health. Getting natural light in winters can at times be a challenge, light therapy can be an option to treat SAD symptoms and other conditions by exposure to artificial light.

2) Eat a balanced diet – Eating a balanced diet is essential for older adults and is a natural way to boost mood and energy. Improved nutrition also helps prevent colds, flu and injuries that are more prevalent in cold weather. As we all know requirement of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fluids changes in old age hence all these nutrients need to be packaged in easy to digest small meals which can be spread throughout the day. Adding plenty of natural colours to your diet with one or two seasonal fruits can be a good source of anti-oxidants.

3) Stay Active – Exercise, while important all year round, can be vital in lifting the mood during the winter months. Physical activity such as Yoga, Frankel exercises help    increase the blood flow to the whole body. Retaining good flexibility for joint movement through stretching really helps when wearing layers to combat the cold. Performing a minimal amount of daily physical movement and exercise also helps prolong memory loss and cognitive decline associated with aging.

4) Planning for events – Whether looking forward to a party or celebration, or planning / redecorating for an upcoming event, it can help create positive feelings. Inviting family members over for lunch, having brunch outside with grand children or visiting friends can help generate positive emotions and excitement.

5) Stick to a Schedule – When experiencing the winter blues, it can be tempting to alter your schedule to avoid activities and socialization – and hibernate instead, but one should try to maintain their schedule of going out, exercising or visiting any community services.  Changes in schedule can also lead to disturbances in mood.

6) Accomplish Goals – If you’ve been putting off a task, whether big or small, winter is the time to tackle it and complete it. For this you can maintain a to-do list and write all your task as per priority and when completed you can cross it off, it will motivate you to complete more tasks on your list, and help you feel better and energetic.

7) Socialize – Being around other people and/or talking to them can lift your spirits. Get together with friends or family or simply give them a call, a small get-togethers with loved ones can help brighten the mood.

8) Mind StimulationMental exercises such as crosswords, puzzles, Sudoku, Scrabble can help one stay mentally alert. Reading a good book by the fire place or in the sun can lift the mood and help stay active.

How can you help as a caregiver to an elderly ?

If a loved one seems a little down this winter, it will be good to make an extra effort to spend some additional time with them. As a caregiver one should be aware of any symptoms of SAD, and look out for them and seek timely help from a doctor or counsellor to counter the depressive symptoms.

As caregivers, it is easy to underestimate the power of communication and connection with those around us. Sometimes a simple afternoon spent with the person you are caring for – listening to music, playing cards or looking at photo albums can drastically improve their mental well-being.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s mental or physical health professional care providers can help with any kind of depressive symptoms through counselling and companionship services for elderly.