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A Family Caregiver's Guide to Coping with a Loved One's Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

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Erika has many wonderful holiday memories of her mother. She always loved buying fresh Christmas trees for them to decorate together, although she remembers with a special fondness the artificial white tree with the kaleidoscope lights. Each year, her family all eagerly anticipate her mom's home-made holiday cookies, cakes, pies, fudge, and fluffy yeast rolls that melt in their mouths. Baking is still one of her mom's favorite activities.

These days, Erika's holiday planning includes how she and her sister will coordinate their schedules to make sure they meet their mother's fall and winter needs. Her mom, like many long-term care recipients, experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). They work to help her cope throughout the season and find new ways to participate in the holidays.

SAD is a type of depression that tends to occur as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter. When Erika's father passed away and her mother's health declined, she noticed her mother exhibiting signs and symptoms of SAD each September as the daylight hours became shorter and the dark hours increased. Erika's mother has said how closed-in and isolated she feels when she can't go outside because of bad weather or when she doesn't get a lot of visitors.

Erika's family makes a special effort to help her mother cope with the symptoms of SAD each year. Elements of their approach might be applicable to other caregiving situations as well:

  • They make sure the drapes are open during all daylight hours.
  • They keep lights on in whatever room she sits in to make it appear brighter.
  • Erika's cousins and extended family make sure to stop by the house, especially from November through January. Her brother takes his four weeks of vacation in December to spend with her.
  • Many relatives and friends bring samples of their homemade holiday treats.
  • They make sure Erika's mom has holiday and all-occasion cards to send people so that she feels connected to anyone she doesn't get to see.
  • They have fun reminiscing and looking at photo albums. The winter is a great time to find out more about their family history and stories. Putting special pictures on the refrigerator or in a central place in the home makes everyone smile.
  • Erika encourages her mother to tell her where to put the decorations so she is involved with the planning.
  • Erika's mother becomes her baking coach when she tries to make her famous yeast rolls. Erika and her siblings try very hard to recreate their mother's favorite recipes!

Erika will never forget seeing her mother teach her 50-year-old-brother how to make his first peach pie and mix his first batch of rolls. She is thankful for each occasion she gets to see the spark in her mother's eyes as she lets her voice be heard while deciding on decorations, gift selections, and especially food. Making a conscious effort to not let SAD control her mother's life helps her and her family to create memories that they will cherish for years to come.

 

Do you need help caring for a Medicaid-eligible loved one at home? Learn more about Seniorlink's coaching and support program for family caregivers.  

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