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What is SAD? Recognizing Seasonal Depression in Seniors

seasonal depression in seniors

As the days grow shorter and it becomes more difficult to catch a glimpse of the sun through gray, rainy skies, the likelihood of depression in seniors rises. Seasonal depression can affect anyone who lives farther from the Earth’s equator where seasonal changes can be felt more dramatically due to shortened sunlight hours. 

According to research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), two groups who are more prone to this disorder are women and people who are already living with certain mental distress or illnesses, like anxiety or bipolar. Senior care service providers also warn that older adults are more susceptible to seasonal depression. You may be wondering how to help with seasonal affective disorder? Here are a few steps you can take to mitigate seasonal depression in seniors. 

People are asking, what is SAD and how can it affect depression in seniors?

SAD is often referred to as the winter blues, but it’s much more than that. People who experience SAD report feelings of helplessness and isolation, much like regular depression. These symptoms of depression appear when the sunlight hours are sparse, because of changes in serotonin and melatonin levels, as well as fluctuations in your body’s biological clock, also known as circadian rhythms. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, this kind of depression in seniors may present itself as  lowered energy levels, oversleeping, weight gain, changes in appetite, and loss of interest in favorite activities for periods of time that relate to seasonal changes. Most often symptoms of SAD can be observed after the holidays are over; however, in some less common cases, people have reported SAD during the spring and summer months. Those who experience SAD may experience symptoms such as weight loss, poor appetite, anxiety and/or insomnia. 

People are also asking, why does SAD increase with age?

People who are older, whether they require a senior care service or not, are more susceptible to SAD for a couple of reasons. One of the most prominent reasons for seasonal depression in seniors is that seniors aren’t always able to get outside during the winter sunlight hours, due to inclement weather conditions or icy walkways. By the time a loved one gets home from work to assist and monitor them outdoors, it’s often already dark. 

SAD may also impact seniors more, because Vitamin D plays a large role in mood regulation. Older bodies may have more difficulty processing Vitamin D in the first place, and everyone’s easiest source of  Vitamin D is the sun. Without normal Vitamin D levels, people are more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression.

Finally, people want to know how they can help with seasonal affective disorder?

Thankfully, there are several options to explore when it comes to treating Seasonal Affective Disorder in seniors. Here are a few routes that are recommended: 

1. Talk to your doctor about antidepressants.

If your doctor diagnoses you with SAD, antidepressants may be necessary to get you through the season if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life. Depression in seniors isn’t a normal part of aging, and can be helped with medication. An antidepressant can correct the chemical imbalance you’re experiencing due to the seasonal changes.

2. Explore phototherapy.

The use of light can help relieve symptoms related to SAD. In a phototherapy session, you’ll sit with a lightbox that emits soft light. This is usually done in the morning. Use of phototherapy may be able to replace or reduce your use of antidepressants for SAD. 

3. Check your Vitamin D levels.

If you experience SAD symptoms, talk to your doctor about running a Vitamin D test. If your Vitamin D levels are low, your doctor may recommend a supplement in combination with eating foods that are high in Vitamin D, like salmon and mushrooms.  

4. Hire a senior care service.

Feelings of loneliness are common during the winter months. If the primary caregiver in the family has to work during the sunlight hours, consider hiring a senior care service to help your loved one take safe trips outside to catch some rays. The senior companionship and exposure to sunlight can help with SAD. 

5. Begin treatment early.

If you’ve been diagnosed with SAD, don’t wait until the darkness of winter to begin taking your antidepressant prescription or extra Vitamin D. By staying on top of your treatment as soon as the seasons begin to change, you may experience better success warding off SAD symptoms.  

If you have a history of feeling out of sorts during seasonal changes, talk to your doctor about seasonal depression in seniors. There are solutions that can make the winter months much more enjoyable.

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