"Bye-Bye" Summer Blues–Maria Flaquer & Robert Holtz

“Bye-Bye” Summer Blues

By Maria Flaquer, M.D., and Robert Holtz, D.O., Collin LIVING WELL Magazine

Ah, the signs of warm-weather days to come are making their debut: budding trees, pops of colorful flowers, and a plethora of strollers. Such indicators of warm, sunny days ahead usually mean an end to winter hibernation and a feeling of the seasonal blues. But for many seniors, the onset of Texas heat can bring its own isolating affect.

The summer blues can be just as much a reality as the winter doldrums for seniors who feel the need to stay out of the heat for health or other reasons. More than a little cabin fever, the summer or winter blues can turn into what’s referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is considered to be a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the summer or winter. Summer depression can begin in late spring or early summer and last into fall.

“Nationally, about one-third of seniors experience some form of depression in their lifetime,” says Maria Flaquer, M.D., of Crescent Family Medicine in Allen. “Some seniors experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy and may also feel depressed. The condition in the summer can be heightened by the anxiety of being shut in and under-socialized when the sun is shining and the sky is clear.”

How To Stave Off the Seasonal Doldrums

Summertime heat doesn’t have to put a damper on your activity level and ability to be connected to the outside world. It’s important to stay engaged, even if this means picking up the phone instead of the car keys or walking cane. Maybe it’s time to find an indoor hobby, a card game to play with nearby friends or an excuse to learn how to Skype with family members.

If you are an avid volunteer in your church or a local organization, help by putting flyers in envelopes instead of being the meet-and-greeter at an upcoming event. You can feel just as useful from your kitchen table when the thermometer is on the rise.

Here are some others ways to help prevent the onset of seasonal affective disorder:

  • Try to spend some amount of time outside every day, even if it’s just a few minutes on a covered porch.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and include sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals as recommended by your doctor. This will help you boost your energy level.
  • Try exercising (indoors or out) for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.

Know the Signs of Depression

“An important step in combating depression no matter what its cause is to recognize it when it occurs,” according to Robert Holtz, D.O., of Main Street Family Physicians in Frisco. “Many seniors don’t feel comfortable with the concept that they might be depressed. As a physician, I’m especially on the lookout for signs of mood problems when the seasons change––especially in the seniors I see. I ask that family members be on the lookout as well.”

Signs of depression can include sleep problems, apathy and/or a decreased energy to do things, fatigue, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, hopelessness or thoughts of suicide.

“If you are experiencing several of the warning signs, you may have a problem. I ask my patients about these things. But I don’t ask them if they are depressed. I may use the term ‘feeling blue’ or ‘down in the dumps.’ There is a place for medication or talk therapy or both in seniors who are depressed, even though they may be resistant. These are tools that can be useful and beneficial, but I only bring them up in the context of a careful discussion,” Dr. Holtz adds.

It’s important for seniors to talk to their physicians about antidepressant medication if symptoms of depression are severe or persist despite interventions. Consultation with a mental health professional trained in cognitive behavior therapy may also be considered. Such therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for SAD.

Above all, stay involved with your social circle, support network and regular activities as much as feasible to help say “bye-bye” to the summer blues.

Dr. Robert Holtz, of Main Street Family Physicians, and Dr. Maria Flaquer, of Crescent Family Medicine, are both part of Texas Health Physicians Group. Dr. Holtz may be reached at 214-387-4073. Dr. Flaquer may be reached at 972-747-0777 or www.crescentfamilymedicine.com.