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ON Aging with Dr. Roger Branch Sr.: Winter blues are a real malady and many suffer from it
Branch WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

It's a new year and the last big holiday for a long time. A few football games remain, but they don't mean much to a lot of people and others don't get interested in basketball until March. So, the thrill of precious presents and sumptuous food is gone. What we have left is short, cold days and long dark nights. Tis the season for the winter blues, a real malady affecting many sufferers - young, old and in between.

For some people the winter blues are simply a touch of sadness at the end of the richly happy times of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Who does not want to stay in the warm glow of happiness forever? The fact that reality imposes limits does not keep us from wishing.

Some people suffer real physical and/or psychological problems that are brought on by aspects of winter. We need regular exposure to sunlight for Vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining healthy bones. Certain foods and vitamin pills help to compensate, but sunlight is better. Winter depression is real - at least for some - many of whom work in windowless rooms for long hours. Interestingly, they do better after being assigned to work places with windows that let in a significant amount of sunlight.

What has this to do with seniors? Well, many of them suffer from winter blues because prevention may be difficult for them. Retirees do not have work requirements that move them past the holidays and force them to be outside and active.

If the weather is cold and the day is dark, it is hard for those - warm clothes - and leaving the warmth of our secure places. Yes, there are places where interesting things are happening but getting there requires putting on more clothes, etc. Our thermostats do not work as well as they used to. (What does?) We get cold more easily and it is harder for us to get warm again. So, a lot of us are tempted to just stay at home.

Here are some words for seniors. Do not give in. Find a friend or friends and walk together in the sunshine. It is good for you and there is no danger of a heatstroke. In fact, it is good to walk on cloudy days if the weather is otherwise tolerable. Visit friends who are giving in to the winter blues. lt will cheer them up and maybe motivate them to do more. If you are the driver, be sure to invite friends without transportation to join you on trips to interesting events.

Launch into that new hobby, project or back-burner chore that has been on your mind so long. Get a seed catalog. Read through it carefully. Survey your yard to see where you might like to plant some of those things later. Remember, "If winter is here, can spring be far behind?" When I was a youngster, I almost hated for my parents to receive the Hastings seed catalog. I could almost see Mother's mind turning with ideas about where I would dig up the yard for her next flower bed, but Daddy would be choosing which watermelon seeds to order so...

Now, here are some other words, this time for those who would help seniors. Remember that transportation can be more challenging for stranded seniors in winter than it is in milder months. It can be a bigger deal than you think to provide a ride. Winter is the time for certain sorts of work with which seniors might need help. If they live in their own homes, pruning trees and shrubs would head the list. Trees damaged by Hurricane Matthew are still dropping limbs.

It is important for everyone, especially seniors, to be active in winter time. So, whatever you can do to involve them in meaningful events, whether as an individual or part of an organization, take the initiative. You will receive more than you give. Simple things like telephone calls or short visits can lighten dark, uneventful days. A gift of food or an invitation to lunch will nourish much more than the body.

Since winter blues can happen to everyone, here are words for us all. Remember to get out of doors for at least a short time every day possible. Look at the trees. Buds on dogwood trees will swell several days before they burst into blossoms. Listen for birdsong - first for the shrill mating call of hawks and then the melodious song of bluebirds - which announces that winter is over. Goodbye, winter blues.


Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.

 

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