Senior Health

1/12/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

The pandemic has gotten most of the negative press lately since it has caused many people, including seniors, to remain isolated and susceptible to depression. And while COVID has made a generous contribution to our aging loved ones’ depressed state of mind lately, seniors have been struggling through bleak winter months – trying to avoid seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder – long before the virus arrived.

Many have called it “winter blues” in the past. Today, it’s better known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). And it has become as much a concern for caregivers of older adults as falls on an icy sidewalk or hypothermia in sub-freezing temperatures. Seasonal depression could have detrimental mental and physical effects on seniors, making it essential to know the signs of SAD and understand how to avoid them.

What Is Seasonal Depression?

Also known as seasonal affective disorder, early sunsets and colder weather trigger seasonal affective disorder. The body’s circadian rhythm, an inner clock, is guided by the sun’s rising and setting.

Researchers believe that the fewer hours of sun during the winter days could be causing changes in serotonin and melatonin levels, both of which regulate specific functions inside the body. Mood is one of these functions, so these biochemical changes may result in symptoms of depression.

SAD usually begins in late fall or early winter and recedes or disappears completely in spring and summer as sunlight becomes more plentiful.

Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The following often start as seemingly minor symptoms but become more severe as winter moves forward:

  • Sluggish feeling
  • Little interest in hobbies and activities
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Needing more sleep or having trouble sleeping
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Weight gain
  • Thinking or talking about suicide frequently

How to Manage and Avoid Seasonal Depression

When you become aware of the warning signs of SAD in your aging loved one, you can take action to prevent severe depression and improve their quality of life this winter. Here are four ways you can help:

1. Know all the risk factors

Understanding the risks of developing SAD can make you more proactive, noticing symptoms much sooner than you would ordinarily. Keep these risk factors in mind:

  • SAD is more common in women than in men.
  • Those with a family history of depression or personal experience could be at increased risk.
  • Where you live in relation to the equator makes a difference. Living farther from the equator where there is less sunlight increases the risk. For instance, residents of Maine are more like to experience SAD than those living in Florida.
  • People with SAD often have low vitamin D levels, and scientists think vitamin D plays a significant role in regulating serotonin levels.

2. Let there be light!

Preventing and managing seasonal affective disorder symptoms means getting more exposure to natural light. You can open the curtains and blinds to allow more light into a room and then spend most of your time there to get the light’s benefits.

Another way to increase your exposure to light is to go outside every day. Even just 10 or 15 minutes in the sun will make a difference in helping to avoid seasonal depression.

If you have mobility issues that prevent going outdoors, light therapy lamps might be an adequate substitute. Many people find that sitting in front of these lamps can reduce SAD symptoms. A word of caution: Talk to your doctor before trying light therapy since the wrong intensity or amount of light may worsen some health conditions.

3. Get off the couch

Regular exercise can prevent or mitigate a host of issues, depression being one of them. Physical activity is known to reduce overall stress and anxiety while making the body tired, improving sleep quality.

Older adults benefit from exercise because it keeps them moving, increases their strength, and makes them more agile – all of which result in fewer falls and improved moods.

4. Seek professional help

Don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor if you believe an older loved one may be suffering from seasonal depression. Doctors can properly diagnose the cause of the symptoms and recommend ways to help them feel better.

They may advise stress-reducing lifestyle changes, medications, light therapy, or counseling.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff