When fall and winter roll around, it’s not uncommon for people to get a little blue. You or someone you know may feel more tired, unmotivated, and sad -- but just because it happens every year doesn’t mean it’s normal. What’s commonly known as the “winter blues” could be something more. Especially during the cold and dark months, attention to senior mental health is critical for overall wellness.
It's Not Just "Feeling Down"
Sadness and anger are part of a healthy spectrum of emotions, so feeling down or upset once in a while is totally normal. However, if a mood change lasts for a week or more, it could be a bigger problem than the blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, often abbreviated as SAD, is a mental health condition that affects sufferers during certain seasons. While it’s usually associated with winter, SAD can actually occur at different points of the year for different people. The disorder is more common during winter in the northern states, as our northern latitudes receive less sunlight than the south.
Aging adults may be at higher risk of depression and SAD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senior physical health and senior mental health go hand in hand - depression is more common in people with other illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer, and around 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition.
Another condition that could be the cause of winter blues is vitamin D deficiency. While vitamin D deficiency is something that should be addressed no matter what age, the condition is particularly serious in aging and elderly adults. Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency are easy to overlook, and include:
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain
- Depression symptoms
If left undiagnosed and untreated for too long in seniors, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis, so be sure to talk to a medical professional if you’re concerned.
The good news about the different causes of winter blues is that they’re pretty well understood by the medical community and they’re totally treatable.
There are a variety of treatments for SAD that have been tested and proven to work in almost all cases. Here are a few:
- Increased sun exposure
- Light box therapy
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Regular exercise
- Mindfulness practices
If you think you might be suffering from SAD, talk to your doctor about what treatment is best for you.
For vitamin D deficiency, the treatment is a little more cut and dry. Incorporating vitamin D-rich foods into your diet is the most natural way to tackle a deficiency. Great foods include:
- Egg yolks
- Fatty fish
- Beef liver
- Fortified dairy products
A doctor may also recommend nutritional supplements, but remember to never begin taking vitamin supplements without first consulting a medical professional, as they may interfere with other treatments and medications.
If you or someone close to you goes through the winter blues, there’s a chance that treatment can help. Regardless of whether you feel the effects of SAD or vitamin D deficiency, be sure to pay close attention to your physical and mental health this winter. Spend time with family and friends, get plenty of exercise and nutrition, and make the cold months just as enjoyable as the rest of your year!