Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real, and it’s the winter blues that won’t seem to go way all season long. Seniors are impacted by SAD more than younger individuals, but how common is this disorder and do other people have it, too?
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that sets in with the changing seasons, and it’s most commonly experienced in the fall and winter months. It’s estimated that over 3 million Americans alone are diagnosed with the condition, or roughly 1% of the population. Some estimates put this figure as high as 5% of the adult population.
You may even find that SAD occurs in the spring and summer months, but this is far less common than in the fall or winter.
The American Psychiatric Association claims that this is a form of depression, and it’s easy to identify. People will experience:
- Mood changes
According to the Association, the worst symptoms seem to be in January and February in the United States, but this will be different across the world.
It’s not uncommon for people to feel the “winter blues.” The weather is colder, there’s less to do outdoors and it can be difficult for seniors to go outside of the house, depending on weather conditions.
But SAD goes deeper than just dreading the cooler months of the year.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Scientists studying SAD have been able to link the condition to a biochemical imbalance in the brain. The shorter daylight hours and lack of sun causes the body to naturally shift its circadian rhythm and internal clock.
The further people live from the equator, the more they’re impacted by SAD.
What SAD Does to Seniors
Seniors tend to be more prone to SAD, and there are a lot of reasons for this. When a person has SAD, it can lead to the following symptoms:
- Sadness or depression
- Lack of enjoyment in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of energy
- Increases in sleeping hours
- Trouble making decisions
- Feelings of being worthless
- Attempts or thoughts of suicide
While SAD can impact seniors the most, it’s a condition that first starts to occur in a person’s late teens until their thirties.
People who experience SAD will often gain weight. For a senior, this can lead to being overweight and putting more pressure on the knees, ankles and hips. It’s essential for seniors to manage their weight if they have the hope of remaining active.
Despite a loss of appetite, SAD also leads to increased carbohydrate cravings, which leads to rapid weight gain for many seniors.
Seniors are in a worse situation than many younger sufferers of SAD.
- Seniors may not want to leave the house. In many cases, seniors will not be able to leave the house due to weather conditions. When this occurs, it can lead to a person losing mobility, strength and flexibility from being immobile.
- Fear and anxiety can also start to increase at this time. When a person is afraid to go outside or no longer feels like being social, it can lead to social anxiety or even fear of leaving the house.
Winter weather is also much harder for seniors to be active in because of the risks of slipping and falling. A single slip and fall can lead to broken bones and the loss of mobility. Seniors do not want to risk falling, so they’ll often remain in their homes during the winter, leading to higher depression levels overall.
If a senior has SAD, it’s best to ensure that treatment starts as quickly as possible.
Allowing SAD to progress can lead to severe bouts of depression, and it can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide in the worst-case scenario. Doctors will be able to diagnose the condition, and it’s important to start treatment immediately for the condition.
It’s not uncommon for SAD to last for up to 40% of the year, so there are four months where caretakers and family members need to keep a close eye on the seniors in their lives.
Treatment Options for SAD
SAD normally goes away on its own after the winter months are gone, but it’s important to seek treatment yearly for the condition. A person can better manage their symptoms every year by addressing the condition with the following treatment methods:
- Get outside more often. There’s less sun during the winter, and the sun is important for a few reasons. The sun provides much-needed Vitamin D, and the sun will also help a person’s sleep cycle regulation. If a person goes outside, they’ll be able to boost their mood and potentially be able to reset their sleep cycle which has been disrupted due to the lack of sunlight.
- Activity. A little bit of exercise each day can help. If you need assistance, a caretaker may be able to assist you on your walk outside. If weather conditions do not permit outdoor activity, there’s no harm in doing exercise at-home. You can perform weight training, chair yoga or other forms of exercise to boost mood, maintain weight and increase sleep quality.
- Increase natural light. Lack of light interrupts the internal body clock, and increasing natural light will be able to eliminate this interruption. Open up the curtains and blinds in the home and let some natural light into the room.
- Therapy. Light therapy has been shown to be an effective form of treatment and may be able to help the brain balance its chemicals.
Anyone that is suffering from SAD will want to research and purchase light therapy lamps. These lamps mimic the sun’s light and will be able to help your body readjust during periods of SAD.
These lamps are a form of light therapy, but it’s important to remain in the light for 30 to 45 minutes per day. The goal is to be able to fully reset the body’s clock and help put the brain’s chemicals back in balance to reduce the sadness and depression that is indicative of SAD.
Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.