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Seasonal changes can cause ‘winter blues’comment (0)

January 20, 2005

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

While many people want to avoid an overly busy lifestyle, staying active has many positive benefits for senior adults, particularly in helping them avoid what is sometimes called the “winter blues.”
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), often referred to as the “blues,” is a very real condition that strikes many adults each year, usually in January and February. 
SAD usually occurs with the change in seasons, particularly with the change from summer to fall and winter. 
SAD sufferers have many symptoms of depression, including food cravings, excessive sleeping and eating, irritability, weight gain and a loss of interest in normal activities. 
These symptoms, however, completely disappear during the spring and summer months.
According to the Web site of the National Mental Health Association, SAD may be caused by the change in sunlight patterns in the winter months.

Shorter days and reduced sunlight hours cause our internal clocks to get “out of step” with our daily schedules, causing feelings of depression.
Although more serious cases may require expert medical care, mild cases of SAD can be fought by staying active both physically and mentally. 
Pauline Cloutier, activities director at Troy Health and Rehabilitation Center, has seen the effects of the blues, and she tries to combat these symptoms by keeping residents of the facility busy.
“It’s very good for their social and mental benefit [to stay active],” Cloutier said. “If the residents just sit in their rooms all the time, they deteriorate.”
Cloutier said their facility offers a variety of religious programs, games and social events for residents, and she tries to make sure there are activities that will keep patients’ minds working.
“Games that involve trivia or recalling memories are great because they help them think,” Cloutier said. Programs offered by local churches and senior citizen centers also can provide opportunities for older adults to have fun and fellowship with other people.
Austin Davenport, a regular attendee at the Muscle Shoals Senior Center, said he started going to the senior center because people in his church were going. 
Davenport, who is 73, said he enjoys the company of others as much as anything, and he can see how the activities at the center help stave off depression at any time.
“People seem to really enjoying being here, and I think coming does help people stay happier,” Davenport said.
For those who struggle with the blues and who are looking for ways to combat them, here are three tips most experts suggest: 
• Find two or three activities you enjoy and participate in at least one of them each week. 
Group activities such as Bible study and games provide good fellowship opportunities, but pursuing a hobby such as sewing, woodworking or crossword puzzles can provide a great deal of personal satisfaction.
• Avoid eating too much, especially foods with too much sugar, fat and caffeine, which only make symptoms of depression worse. 
• Make time to exercise. If the weather permits, a walk outside in the sunshine is especially beneficial. 
If the weather doesn’t allow outdoor activity, find a church, community center or mall for your walks or participate in a senior adult exercise class.
It is also important to remember that while various forms of depression do often occur with serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer, it is not a normal part of aging. 
Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression should discuss his or her concerns with a doctor to explore treatment options.
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