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Aging Parents and the Winter Blues

Have you noticed your senior loved one experiencing periods of being “down in the dumps?”

Many Americans suffer from episodes around the winter holidays but for seniors this condition may persist.winter-blues

My father used to suffer every year from the “winter blues” due to the lack of sun and exercise. To name few of his symptoms of depression, he experienced low motivation to do his daily walks, or to socialize with family members and others at the assisted living facility. He dreaded the winters! I would call him every morning, just to get a sense of his mood and physical being. (The reality is, I just enjoyed talking to him – he would lighten my day.)

As an adult child, pay attention to the following symptoms when you visit or talk with your aging loved one:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Families think “Snap out of it!” or “It must be a passing mood”
  • Tearfulness
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Looking “spacey”
  • Anxiousness exhibited by fidgeting and pacing
  • Excessive sleep
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Increase use of alcohol/drugs

Helen C. Kates, M.D. in Medical News Today: “They were taught to pick themselves up by the boot straps and not cry when things went wrong. So it may be really hard to for them to talk about having emotional problems or experiencing depression. They may feel like they need to be stoic and power through it.”

If you notice a few of these symptoms, where do you turn? The first step is to get a diagnosis from your family physician. Alternatively, enlist the help of a Geriatric Psychiatrist whose name may be found on the list from The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry .

Call the professional ahead of the appointment to request that he/she specifically examines your loved one for depression or dementia. This way the physician can ask about the condition without directly approaching the subject in the presence of your loved-one. The doctor may suggest a treatment regime as simple as medications of various types, grief counseling, therapy with a social worker or exercise.

In the article “Elderly Depression and the Holidays” at, the author states, “Regardless of whether your elderly parent is in a long-term care facility, children of aging parents can take several steps to ensure the mental health and well-being of their loved ones. Arranging and engaging in regular phone contact when family members are distant is important to make the elderly parent feel cared for, thought about and loved. Scheduling regular visits to the long-term care facilities is also important so the senior doesn’t feel they have been abandoned and forgotten.”

The family may develop a plan to involve the senior. Gather the “clan” to brainstorm as many options as possible. Schedule weekly outings with the senior, send funny cards, invite friends to visit from their church, play cards, reminisce about childhood escapades and the list goes on.

Families have the opportunity to spend quality time with their senior during the winter when the ice and snow cause dreary days. The southern states may not deal with extreme weather of the north, but the daylight is short wherever you go.

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