With the holiday season wrapped up and everyone returning to normal routines, some seniors are at a higher risk for developing SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or other serious symptoms of wintertime depression. Especially vulnerable are those seniors who are unable to get out of the house or outside of a community setting to enjoy social activities or family events, and those who are generally more affected by the lack of sunlight. Immobility and vitamin D deficiency can compound symptoms of SAD, so it’s important to pay close attention to seniors affected by these issues. Learning to identify and address both SAD and depression early on is helpful in supporting seniors to feel happier and more like themselves again.
To some degree, most people experience wintertime depression as the seasons change due to reduced exposure to sunlight and disruptions in circadian rhythms and hormones. This usually happens more throughout the winter and can affect everything from a person’s mood to sleep patterns, appetite and energy levels.
Generally, people with SAD feel more tired, may feel more stressed or anxious, and may have less interest in activities they used to love. While a bit of melancholy isn’t necessarily something to worry about, symptoms that persist longer than a couple of weeks and have a drastic impact on a senior’s quality of life are worth paying close attention to.
Seniors with SAD may:
- Feel that it’s difficult to complete basic everyday tasks for themselves
- Eat less or not eat nutritious foods
- Be more irritable, angry and seem stressed out
- Not want to participate in activities or be around other people.
Ways to Treat SAD
A doctor or care specialist will be able to help differentiate between SAD and more serious forms of depression, and suggest some treatment strategies, including medicated and non-medicated options. Anti-depressant medications can be used to treat both SAD and other forms of depression but starting with a non-medication option may be best depending on the situation.
Ensuring that seniors are getting the proper amounts of vitamin D is critical to combating SAD. Doctors can check for a vitamin D deficiency, which be treated effectively through meals and snacks that are fortified with vitamin D.
For many people, the use of light therapy through a ‘light box’, a device intended to replicate natural sunlight, can be the easiest way to regulate hormones and boost mood. For a short time per day, sitting in front of the box mimics sitting near a sunlit window. Those seniors who do have access to the outdoors should get outside as much as possible, especially when it’s sunny out.
Preventing SAD and Wintertime Depression
If a senior has been diagnosed with SAD or depression that may worsen during the winter, it’s always better to take preventative measures starting with administering any prescribed medications before the cold weather hits to ensure that they have time to take effect. At New Century Home Care, our staff can help with medication reminders and administration.
If your loved one has not yet been diagnosed and you simply want to help them manage a potential occurrence of SAD naturally, try investing in a light box and showing them how to use it. If you visit often, you may like to take turns using it with them or if their mobility and the weather permits, take them outside to enjoy real sunlight during your visits.
Along with enjoying the sun together, you might also go for a walk or participate in another form of exercise with them. Regular exercise has been shown to help to stabilize circadian rhythms and improve other symptoms of depression. If going on a walk together isn’t possible, arrange to have someone check in on your loved one regularly. Regular visits from our staff help seniors remain active and socially engaged and help avoid incidents of senior isolation.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s diet, speak to an attendant, specialist or home caregiver. At New Century Home Care, our staff can work with you to monitor your loved one’s meals and make sure they’re getting the proper nutrition and to encourage long-lasting healthy habits that will help prevent and treat SAD.
Preventing SAD and other forms of depression is easier when you know what to look for and have strategies to help. Your loved one doesn’t need to feel alone and knowing that they’re supported, cared for and part of a community can make a world of difference as part of their treatment.