The Caregiver’s Journal: Battling ‘Seasonal’ Blues

It’s been a while since I’ve written an article about my parents, my father — the caregiver and my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. But with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season behind us, the Winter Blues have hit the Campbell/Cheronis households in a very big way.

My mother has, like a lot of people, been experiencing what is known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or as I call it, The Winter Blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is described by Alzheimer’s Universe as

¯ Irritability

¯ Increased anxiety

¯ Problems with memory

¯ Lack of personal care

¯ Loss of appetite

¯ Lack of motivation and energy

¯ Feelings of helplessness

Seniors oftentimes are unable to recognize and/or identify their own symptoms of depression, makes it important for caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of SAD. Caregivers may notice a sudden change in mood, appetite, or energy level in their loved one, other symptoms may involve, sadness, sleep disturbances or lethargy. The key in assessing for SAD is to tune into sudden changes that seem to revolve around the cold, dark months of winter.

Of course, any symptoms of depression should be reported to the physician regardless of the season. Many of these signs and symptoms can overlap symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. ”

For caregivers like my father, it is difficult for him to tell if Mom is suffering from SAD or is just reacting from frustrations of knowing she is living with Alzheimer’s.

This time of year is challenging for both of them. Many people suffer from SAD whether they have Alzheimer’s or not. Young adults, elderly, men or women can be affected by this and suffer depression, anxiety and overall sadness.

So, what did we do to “perk up” my Mom and as an added benefit less my Dad’s stress level? I used the holiday clean-up time as a way to get my Mom physically active, using her mind and her body and at the same time doing something together that would bring up memories of things that brought her joy. Let me interject here to say a big THANK YOU to my husband who is so kind to my parents and especially my mother who adores him.

During this whole holiday clean-up process, he never uttered a negative word even though our house was a crazy mess of boxes and Santas. One recent Sunday my parents came to our home for our weekly old fashioned home-cooked meal which my father picks out the menu and I cook.

During this particular dinner, my Mom looked around my still decorated home (no time to remove the decorations yet) and announced that she would take my Christmas tree decorations down. ”

What a great idea!” my Dad said. So, after dessert and coffee, the men went into the living room to watch football and Mom and I began the task of removing all the decorations off the tree.

I learned a lot about my Mom over that hour of holiday clean-up. I learned that my Mom is very good at hiding her struggles with doing everyday things we take for granted. As I handed her a plastic bag to put all the red ornaments into, she began her task, but soon I saw her just standing and starring at the tree. She had forgotten what she was doing.

So I gently pointed out an ornament hiding behind and branch and we shared a joke about those ones not wanting to leave their home on the tree. I had to stop what I was doing and coach her along every now and then, but the closeness I felt to my Mom and the joy I saw in her face because she was helping me, was priceless. We sometimes forget as caregivers that our loved ones still need to feel needed.

This was a big lesson for me since I am a “fixer” and sometimes it is hard for me to let my Mom (or my Dad) do things themselves. As Mom and I continued to talk about old Christmas memories, I caught a glimpse of my Dad in the living room watching us work. His smile was more than any words could describe. He caught me looking at him and I got the “thumbs up” approval.

Every Sunday, especially during the Winter Blues months, becomes more and more important for my parents and for our family.

Both of them need activities that will create joy, movement, socialization and fun. So to everyone who has the Winter Blues, do your best to recognize SAD in yourself and in those you love and do one small thing each day that brings you and your loved one joy.

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