Battling winter blues (RACKNER)

I always forget what it is like this time of year. The days get darker and shorter, rain makes its appearance and of course the cooler temperatures. I always have mixed feelings about the change from summer to fall. I usually have no misgivings about winter to spring, when I can look forward to longer days and sunlight. Fall and early winter also include numerous holidays, which can create great expectations and, at times, great disappointments.

For many people, this time of change can influence their mood. And especially for older adults, it can create a tremendous amount of stress and grief surrounding their history of losses.

Often older adults do not have a long-standing depressive disorder throughout their lives. Instead, they may have depressive symptoms that happen later in their life. About 15 percent of people over the age of 65 experience some symptoms of depression. Commonly the depression symptoms can occur along with other serious illness such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer or dementia.

Some of the symptoms associated with late life depression can include: feeling nervous or empty, tired or slowed down, or restless and irritable. The symptoms can also include feelings of guilt or worthlessness, a reduced ability to concentrate or thoughts that life is not worth living. What I commonly hear from my clients is that pleasurable activities cease to be enjoyable and that they struggle to resolve their grief over the many losses in their lives. These symptoms can appear very gradually and, combined with other physical illnesses, can be hard to detect.

I have had many clients who are not able to pinpoint why they felt out of sorts or why they feel different. Oftentimes it is family members who notice differences in their loved one’s behavior or mood. When these changes in behavior or mood occur, there are many options for help.

Sometimes it is a matter of finding things to do to keep yourself busy or to increase your social activity. Research has also shown that exercising more and paying attention to proper nutrition can do wonders for how you feel. Of course you may also need to report these changes to your doctor. Physicians can help to ferret out whether your changes in behavior or mood are related to the medications that you take or another medical concern.

Research has also shown that in some cases both anti-depressant medications and short-term psychotherapies are very effective in treating people with late-life depression. In my practice, often clients come in for therapy, for the very first time in their life usually because a family member, friend or their physician pushes them to do so. They sometimes come back in after 6 to 12 months for an additional tune-up of short-term therapy. My clients tell me that over time, they get better at recognizing their symptoms and willingly seek help sooner.

So, no matter why a person experiences depressive symptoms, it is important to know that there are good and effective treatments available. It may be that you as the family member or friend may notice the changes and need to nudge the person to get help. And during this holiday season, that could be the greatest gift you could give them.

Betsy Zuber, Geriatric Specialist provides social services to people 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at 236-3525, e-mail or mail MIYFS 2040 - 84th Avenue S.E., Mercer Island, WA 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.

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