Senior Depression in the Winter

by Mahala Church

Detecting senior depression can be as simple as noticing that an aging friend or family member seems confused and continues to lose weight. The first thing that pops to mind is dementia, but it may be depression. Seniors grew up in a time when depression carried inappropriate labels like crazy; couple that with fears of lost independence, and it becomes doubly hard for seniors to seek help.

How Does Depression Affect Seniors?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects millions of people of all ages. The sun disappears for months in some places and dims for the winter months in most. Hibernation is fine for bears, but constantly staying indoors increases the depression risk for seniors, isolating them with transportation issues and fear of falls.

The effects of depression can lead to a myriad of health problems at any age; senior depression quickly complicates existing health conditions and decreases cognitive ability.

Symptoms Associated With Depression

  • Pain (arthritis increases in cold weather)– Stops going to church, appointments, shopping.
  • Confused Orientation– Forgets to refill and take medications; loses track of time and date; quits playing games, doing crosswords, reading the paper & books; overlooks bills.
  • Personality Change- Grumpiness cuts off family and friends and exacerbates family spats; quits answering the phone and door.
  • Stops Leaving the House– Too much trouble or cannot afford a cab; fears accidents.
  • Different Psyche– Worries aboutlosing their mind;” feels worthless.

The downside of each risk is obvious, but each one feeds on the other, producing a precarious environment for the depressed senior.

How Can Depression Be Prevented/Managed?

There are medications for depression, but try other things (without negative side effects) first to bring hope and light to the cold months of senior depression. Heard of the bucket list?  Well, this is your pail list to help a senior beat depression.

Stimulate brain power (take a wheel chair or walker if needed for safety) by taking the senior to a museum, the movies, library, church, educational class, play a board game or do some arts and crafts.

Go shopping at the grocery store, or to find a new outfit (hit the thrift shops).

Socialize them at a senior center and provide regular transportation.

Stay active and join an exercise class together or at the senior center and  provide regular transportation.

Eat together at least once or twice a week.  You can cook, they can cook, or go out.

Volunteer at church, cancer or heart societies, child care centers. Find a way to help others – shut-ins, food bank, meals on wheels, babysitting.

Watch a movie that they’ll remember like a Laurel and Hardy movie and laugh your head off.

Perseverance reaps big rewards mentally and physically for you and the senior with depression.

Exercise is a blue-mood buster; studies prove it equal to antidepressants in relieving stress.  Exercise doesn’t have to be step-class or the treadmill.  Strength improves with exercises from a chair, in bed, a reclining elliptical machine, or short walk.  It gets the juices flowing so to speak.  Isolation is only good for bears.

How to Help

If you know a senior who is suffering from depression, it may be time to start looking into senior living options. Senior Living communities not only provide care for seniors, but also provide a place where residents can socialize with people their own age, all without having to leave their home! All of this combined can help raise the senior’s spirits and get him or her back to enjoying retirement years.

To find the perfect senior living community, call your local Care Advisor at (866) 662-0435. They will help you narrow down the thousands of choices out there based on location, budget and level of care needs.

Mahala Church is an editor and writer with extensive experience in healthcare management and nursing. Specializing in oncology nursing, she is a strong patient advocate. Her writing couples her degrees in liberal arts and nursing with her experience in business and healthcare to foster support for patient and family education.