More than two million seniors, over the age of 65, are diagnosed with some form of depression every year. Yet, only 38% of seniors believe depression is a health issue. And they’re more likely than any other age group to “handle it themselves.” In fact, research reveals that more than half of all seniors, age 65 and older, believe that it is normal for people to become depressed as they get older! This is simply not true. It is so important to raise awareness about depression this winter in hopes of helping seniors cope with the winter blues – a time when many people feel down.
Spotting the Winter Blues
Near the end of the year, seniors are used to a lot of social activity and spending time with friends and family. But between the New Year until about Easter, all of that social activity dramatically declines for many seniors, especially if they are caring for a spouse or parent, or their family lives out of state. For those in the northern states, add cold weather and not much sunlight to their days, and you have seniors who may suddenly be faced with the “winter blues”, contrasting with the benefits of being outside in the sun and in nature.
Be on the lookout for these three most common signs of depression in your elderly relatives:
- Lack of appetite
- Problems concentrating.
Don’t pass off these symptoms as stress or normal aging. It’s important to recognize the difference. A little space, time and an extra set of eyes and ears can help everyone get through the winter.
Studies have shown a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Researchers behind a 2013 meta-analysis noticed that study participants with depression also had low vitamin D levels. The same analysis found that, statistically, people with low vitamin D were at a much greater risk of depression.
Good local resources to turn to for help include a Council on Aging, Senior Center, Support Group for Caregivers, or a home care service. Even when seniors don’t need physical assistance, a traditional home care service can provide companionship. Thus, helping those who are often house-bound during the winter months to cope with loneliness. It can also provide help with grocery shopping and other household duties.
A Word about Caregivers
Often the elderly themselves are caring for a spouse who is physically frail or ill or has dementia. For these caregivers depression and stress can lead to a host of physical issues. These issues can make it harder to provide good care and keep their own spirits up. In these cases, support services from a home care agency or a respite stay at a local assisted living community can provide much needed relief, at least temporarily.
The American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders created the following list of common signs of depression. These symptoms can be more prevalent in those caring for a loved one with memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease. This article on Depression in Caregivers of Patients with Dementia is excellent.
- Becoming easily agitated or frustrated
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
- Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
- Disturbed sleep, fatigue or loss of energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain