Managing Elderly Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the Colder Months
As the days grow shorter and darker and the weather begins to cool down, some of us may begin to notice changes in how we feel. Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, can affect many of us in the fall and winter months. SAD is a form of depression that sets in as the seasons change. It’s helpful for older adults and their caregivers to know the signs so that they can take simple steps to respond to SAD and increase their overall sense of well-being.
SAD is most common in the fall and winter, though some may experience it in the spring or early summer. Scientists aren’t certain about the exact causes of this seasonal depression. However, it’s suspected that decreased exposure to sunlight (and therefore vitamin D) affects levels of serotonin and melatonin in the brain which can disrupt both mood and sleep in the fall and winter months.
Older adults can be prone to seasonal depression as changes in weather make it harder to spend time with others. Concerns about driving in the dark or slipping on ice can cause seniors to be more isolated in colder months, which can affect outlook and mood. In addition, seniors who receive care due to illness or age may be more susceptible to feeling low. Seasonal depression can intensify these feelings.
Recognizing the symptoms of SAD can help seniors and caregivers name the problem and take steps to find help and relief. Signs of seasonal depression may include feeling depressed most days, losing interest in socializing and activities, having low energy, sleep problems, changes in appetite, feeling hopeless, or having frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Naming symptoms is the first important step to finding the right help for someone suffering from SAD.
Responding to SAD
Thankfully, SAD is very treatable. By addressing it, seniors can begin to feel more like themselves again and get back to enjoying life. A good first step may be to talk with your doctor about feelings of seasonal depression. Your doctor can suggest treatment options which might include medication, counseling, or even increasing vitamin D intake. It’s important to work together with your doctor to find an approach that takes other medications and health concerns into consideration as well.
Your doctor may also recommend light therapy, which uses a special light box to mimic natural sunlight and helps to improve mood. Additionally, making some simple changes at home can have a big effect. Increasing exposure to sunlight and fresh air helps improve feelings of well-being, along with exercise. Taking a brisk walk outside is a great way to get all of those good things in one dose. On days with more inclement weather, open the curtains and sit by a window. Even on cloudy days, exposure to sunlight is beneficial. Also try limiting sugar and eating foods rich in vitamin D.
With some care and intention, seniors and their caregivers can address the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and take steps to improve quality of life again. It’s encouraging to know that the solution may be as simple as stepping into the light.
The Cedars Retirement Community
The Cedars Retirement Community is a beautiful lakeside retirement residence located just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Cedars believes in providing the highest quality of life and opportunity for seniors. We continue to operate with great care during this pandemic and are following all guidelines issued by the CDC and ISDH. Please contact us with any questions you may have.