Have you ever wondered how do changing seasons affect the senior mind and body? In this article, we will discuss some of the impacts and what protections can you take to save from the impact of changing seasons.
A change of seasons may be a pleasant change of pace for most people, but changing climatic conditions are not quite favorable for seniors, as it poses a lot of restrictions on them.
Snow makes it slippery for them to roam around (increasing risk of falls), heat makes it unfavorable for them to go outside in the sun, pollution makes it difficult to breathe, and makes them feel congested.
Therefore if you look into the effect of changing seasons or climatic conditions, seniors’ minds and bodies are impacted in several ways. We will discuss some of them in the article below.
How Seasons Affect The Body’s Metabolism
Changes in seasons cause changes in our metabolic rate, fat gain, and insulin resistance, especially for seniors. You should keep a watch on the changing weather as it will be helpful for you to predict your body’s functions.
Winter and insulin resistance
Like other mammals, our body responds naturally in winters to create an insulin-resistant state. This change is borne out of evolution over millions of years, largely because the food was scarce in the winters and the body had to become more fuel-efficient. The body prepares itself to remain without food for a long duration during the winters.
Unfortunately for people with Diabetes, lower insulin resistance also means that your blood sugar will increase. Studies show that more people go to the ER during winters due to diabetes.
Storing fat in the body
The human body is quite efficient. During summer or early fall, the brain directs the body to increase its insulin resistance.
The liver’s fat production increases, and our adipose and non-adipose tissues store fat to be ready for the winters.
By storing fat, our bodies simply get ready for the winter season. Therefore due to this fat storage, people remain warm throughout and even gain a few kilos of weight. It is all because of the metabolism that occurs in our body.
For the elderly, this means that fall risk and injury doubles during winters, both because of slippery floors and higher weight.
Switching to hibernation mode
Our brain’s command and control center is situated deep between our eyebrows, near the hypothalamus. Our brain’s orders are transmitted using the neuroendocrine axis with various signaling pathways that switch our system to hibernation mode or result in its opposite situation. The low brain area controls the hypothalamic dopamine activity and is one of the essential features responsible for the insulin-resistance state in human beings.
Also, low dopamine activity is interconnected with obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Therefore, all these brain activities make our body go into hibernation mode, and thereby the elderly start feeling lazy and lethargic, especially in winter.
Body metabolism Cycles
As it’s the holiday season during the winter, if your body becomes lazy, the elderly should start changing their diet so that their metabolism remains active and keeps you energetic.
Likewise, during the onset of the spring season, you must have observed a rise in the quantity of hypoglycemia in your blood even after the use of the same amounts of insulin, doing physical activity, and having the right food. All this fluctuation in your insulin amount might be a result of the ineffective functioning of your metabolic cycle.
Physical Changes Due To Changing Weather Conditions
Many seniors face fever, cold, or cough problems due to extreme winter conditions. It is also necessary for them to do regular exercise which keeps them fit and active.
But due to extreme cold outside, they cannot go outdoors for it, at times it even becomes difficult for them to do exercise at home as they feel like blankets and comforters become their best friends during these times.
But by staying inactive during the winter season, seniors could lose strength and balance, and it would make it hard for them to recover and get back into being physically active when the weather warms or heats up.
Weather-related joint pain causes many problems for the elderly. People who are suffering from arthritis may experience worsening of their pain.
During the rainy season and snowfall, the temperature drops down, and barometric pressure decreases (in layman’s terms, barometric pressure is the weight of the air around you.
The weight of the air will increase if the weather is favorable, like warm, and the weight of the air might decrease when the weather is not entirely favorable for our body, like snow or heavy wind, etc.) which can lead to the thickening of fluids in the joints, thereby making the joints stiffer.
So if you experience joint pain, It is advised not to visit places that are more prone to storms or during those times of the season when storms hit a particular area.
Most people experience swelling of the hands and feet when the weather outside is hot, though it does not happen with everyone. This is known as heat edema, and it occurs due to the widening of blood vessels in the human body.
This can even lead blood to pool in your extremities. If you also experience it, don’t lose control or start consulting doctors immediately. It’s mostly not as big an issue as is made out of it.
But if your body swells to the point of discomfort, don’t ignore this symptom. It might be a sign of heat exhaustion. And It is suggested that the elderly prefer to stay at home during extreme heat waves around the area.
Nutritional changes in winter can also adversely affect a senior’s health. Seniors may get decreased vitamin D levels due to less sun exposure as they spend most of their time sitting at home or even less Vitamin C in the foods they eat.
Lesser Vitamin D can cause cognitive deficiencies in older people and contribute to cardiovascular disease at any age. Therefore they must have adequate and nutrition-rich fruits and vegetables throughout the year to keep themselves disease-free.
Ways to Help Seniors Prepare for Changing Seasons
As we know, older citizens usually have a weaker immune system, making them more prone to various diseases. Therefore below are some tips which would help seniors prepare for the changing climatic conditions:
Protect seniors from fall
The fall and winter seasons bring many mobility issues for seniors that they need to be ready for. Slippery roads and falling leaves on the streets during fall can cause problems for the elderly as it becomes difficult to walk around. Therefore try keeping the area around you clean so that it’s safe for them to roam around.
Get them to layer up their clothing
You should advise your seniors how to layer different clothes to protect themselves from cold, which might prevent their body from catching a cold and coughing.
Keep a regular check on the fridge
If your seniors do not cook their meals that often, you should try to keep checking their fridges as the food might get spoiled due to the changing weather conditions.
Also, go through their medicines, as it’s difficult for them to go out and buy medicines regularly as winters are pretty harsh for them, so they should have a good stock of medications with them.
Request them to stay indoors, especially during winter
Even though layering up clothes can help them stay warm, going out of the house may pose a risk for them. You should primarily try to accompany the seniors of your home while they go outdoors and even try taking them out when the temperature drops down.
What Is The Impact Of Location For Seniors During Changing Climatic Conditions?
Location is one of the most critical factors for your health conditions. Depending upon the place where seniors live, some of them can be more vulnerable to health issues caused due to climate change than others.
For example, about 20% of older adults live in an area where a hurricane or tropical storm has caused landfall within the last decade. As there is a rise in the severity of tropical storms, it becomes riskier for seniors to live in coastal areas.
During a storm, the loss of electricity can make it challenging to get down from their house or even go in it. For people who reside in multi-story buildings with elevators, loss of electricity hinders mobility as well.
Living in extreme weather conditions like winters in Alaska/Canada or summers in Dubai are unbearable. These things make it difficult for the elderly to reside in such places as it causes them to stay at home most of the time, which eventually makes it tough to buy food, medicines, and other essential stuff.
How Does Seasonal Change Affect The Mental Health Or Mind Of The Elderly?
Mental health and climate change seem to be directly proportional nowadays, i.e. as and when we see seasons changing, it starts impacting the mental state of a person, especially of seniors. Climate change can lead to milder stress to extreme distress symptoms or even cause some clinical disorders such as anxiety, disturbance in sleeping patterns, and even depression in seniors.
As the seasons change and we experience either heat waves or chilling weather conditions, it reduces the engagement of the elderly in their daily activities, and they start losing their sense of place. These conditions eventually impact their mental state of mind.
How do heat waves pose stress for the elderly?
Heatwaves and precipitation directly impact the mental health of an individual. Health risks posed due to such issues have risen in recent years.
Stress caused due to heatwaves is associated with mood disorders and anxiety. People who are already suffering from a mental health problem are at more risk during heat waves, and the chance of death increases as well.
As people get irritated due to heatwaves, they become more aggressive in thoughts and actions. Also, if the elderly are exposed to heat for a long duration, they might feel extremely tired physically and psychologically.
How To Take Care of Your Mental Health During Seasonal Changes?
As seasons change, people experience some mood shifts. During winters, it’s difficult for the elderly to get sunlight regularly, which may lead to a lack of Vitamin D in the body and even a reduction in serotonin levels. It is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate one’s mood. Symptoms of seasonal mood change are – feeling exhausted, sad, low energy or lack of motivation.
Some of the ways of improving your mental state during changing seasons are:
Undergoing Light therapy
Light is one of the necessary tools for overcoming seasonal depression. Once you start increasing your exposure to sunlight, your symptoms will start improving with time. SAD can be treated by light therapy. Try soaking as much sunlight as possible during the morning hours to help you overcome mood disorders.
Try to socialize as much as possible
Having an excellent social routine daily is a great decision to overcome seasonal depression. As per sources, it is estimated that social isolation is connected with higher rates of depression. If you feel tired quite often, then try to wake up in the morning and go for exercise and go walking as exercise, which would even help you socialize with people.
Manage your diet and nutritional needs
Focusing on your diet and dietary needs boost your mood and thereby helps you overcome your seasonal depression. Try incorporating more and more vegetables and fruits in your diet as this will help your body feel energetic and help you feel good.
Effect Of Seasonal Changes On Dementia
Dementia is not a disease, and it is instead a common term used for memory loss, zero to minimum thinking ability, and language issues in a person. It is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects a person’s cognitive ability.
It is most common in seniors above the age of 70. And if we go with the figures in the USA, 1 in 7 Americans over the age of 70 has dementia.
Seasonal changes affect the cognitive functioning of the elderly, especially if they have dementia. They have better cognitive functions during summer, but their dementia effects worsen during the winters. They show more confusion, increased agitation, and aggression during winters during early evenings.
They also become quite restless during the night as the days become shorter during winters. Their depression also aggravates during winter due to less sunlight.
What is the reason behind the change in cognition due to seasonal changes?
The researchers have observed that the brain of the elderly changes its functioning power depending upon the season.
A recent study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, whose lead investigator is Dr Andrew Lim, states that older adults’ cognitive capability changes with seasons.
According to the latest research, it has also been noticed that older adults’ memory usually rises or peaks in the ages 70, 80 or ’90s. Their ability to concentrate increases as the seasons change. Therefore, the seasonal change affects them physically or emotionally and even impacts their mental state.
The cognitive ability to think in older adults changes with seasons. It has been noticed that if a person is 85 years old during the spring season, they might act like a person who is 80 years old, or we can say their cognitive power changes with climate or seasonal change.
The cognitive power of the seniors changes as their body might experience biological changes in the brain, i.e. there might be specific changes in the body’s protein level, which affects their thinking or working of the mind from season to season.
The Alzheimer’s disease proteins amyloid-beta and tau in the spinal fluid change from season to season, making itself one of the main contributors in changing brainpower.
It has been speculated that this change in cognition might be related to a change in sleeping pattern, level of vitamin D in the body, or performance of certain activities.
Light exposure is also a factor that changes the level of cognition of the mind, but in this case, the rise in cognition takes place during the fall rather than in summers.
Dealing With Dementia In Winters: What Can Caregivers Do?
- It will be great if you can take your seniors for a walk during afternoons when the sun is shining bright.
- If not, you can plan for a calm atmosphere at the patio during the afternoons.
- It will be better to make them sit till the sunset so that they can accept the darkness.
- Try and keep their routine intact during the winters.
- Don’t let them sleep too much during the daytime, which will worsen their condition.
- Last but not least, seek professional help if need be.
Seasonal Affective Disorder In The Elderly
Seasonal Affective Disorder, i.e., SAD, is a sort of depression that is connected to seasonal changes. It is observed that SAD begins and ends at nearly the same time every year in most cases.
If you are also one of those who experience SAD, then your symptoms may start during fall and continue during the winter season. It even makes you experience mood swings and a decrease in energy. SAD leads to depression during spring or during the onset of the summer season.
What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
It is mainly observed that the symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder appear during the end of the fall season or starting of winters, and it usually goes away as the days start becoming brighter during the spring or summer season.
The following are the symptoms of SAD :
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty.
- Experiencing depression throughout the day on a regular basis
- Losing curiosity in things that you used to find enjoyable earlier
- Having low energy throughout the day.
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Facing difficulty in concentration
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms related to the summer season and spring SAD
Spring and summer SAD, is also known as summer depression at times, and its symptoms may include:
- Experiencing sleepless nights, which are usually called insomnia
- Loss of appetite or not in a mood to eat anything
- Experiencing Weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
SAD related to spring and winter season:
Spring and winter SAD are also known as winter depression at times, and its symptoms may include:
- Sleeping for long hours
- Change in appetite in which you would mainly experience a craving for food items that are high in carbohydrates.
- Experiencing Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy and sluggish
Complications related to seasonal affective disorder
You should try to take symptoms of seasonal disorders quite seriously as SAD, along with other types of mood disorders, may lead to a serious issue that would make it difficult to treat, especially if it is the case with the elderly. The following may be the symptoms:
- Withdrawal from society
- Issues related to your family, school, or workplace
- Drinking alcohol or smoking a lot
- It even involves mental health disorders like experiencing anxiety or eating disorders.
- Suicidal behavior or thoughts related to death
If your symptoms get detected early, then taking regular treatment from the doctor can help the disease from worsening, and it can also prevent certain complications.
At last, we can conclude that winters can make both you and your metabolism slow. As a result, you can gain weight and feel lethargic. However, you can keep up with the chilly weather by indulging in physical activity like cycling, exercising, yoga or meditation.
A sudden spike in your insulin level can be fatal. Therefore, we advise you to get a regular health check-up. Above are some mentioned points that you can keep in mind while caring for the elderly, especially during changing seasons.
We hope this article was able to arm you with enough information to understand the sudden changes in your elderly ward’s condition during a seasonal change. You will be better prepared to deal with likely problems.
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