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How to Recognize Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors


senior with seasonal affective disorder
Image credit: pololia / Adobe Stock

During the winter months, healthcare professionals and loved ones look to prevent seniors from suffering an icy fall or a virus due to cold and flu season. However, they may forget another hidden threat to seniors: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).


SAD is a form of depression that aligns with the seasons, typically occurring during the winter months. As the nights get longer and cold weather becomes more prevalent, some may feel the signs of depression setting in. Anyone can experience SAD; however, seniors can be harder hit. Here’s how to monitor and treat seniors with SAD.


Seasonal affective disorder in seniors


It’s important to closely monitor the possible signs of SAD in seniors. It may look like just a bout of sadness, but a week or two of persistent symptoms affecting daily life may point to SAD.


For senior citizens, SAD can be worsened by isolation and loneliness brought on by social distancing. Many who have SAD may not be able to get the help they need due to the pandemic. This is why regular check-ins, including phone calls and doctor’s visits, can assist in identifying SAD in seniors.


How to recognize SAD in seniors


There are various symptoms of SAD to watch closely for. All these symptoms may not be present, and it’s highly dependent on a senior’s own daily routine. Individuals who already have a mental health disorder may have more susceptibility to SAD, making it more difficult to separate the symptoms. The general symptoms of SAD include:


● Feelings of unworthiness.

● Loss of energy or lethargy.

● Fatigue or increased sleepiness.

● Feelings of constant sadness.

● Weight loss or gain without any influence.

● Irritability or loss of temper.

● Either unable to sleep or sleeping more than usual.

● Withdrawing from activities and hobbies they used to enjoy.

● Unable to focus their attention on any one thing.

● Constantly tearful or weepy.

● Change in their regular hygienic routine.


Treating SAD in seniors


There are various pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical options when treating SAD in seniors, including:


1. Increasing vitamin D levels


Getting adequate levels of vitamin D is important for all ages, but especially so for seniors as it helps strengthen bones and avoid excess fatigue and depressive mood. When seniors' vitamin D levels are low, they’re more susceptible to depressive episodes and disorders such as SAD. Vitamin D supplements can be taken to increase these levels and certain foods rich in vitamin D may help increase levels.


2. Bright light therapy


It may help seniors to subscribe to bright light therapy where they use a lightbox in their home to emit fluorescent light that mimics natural sunlight. Research shows that light therapy boxes can assist with regulating serotonin and epinephrine and decreasing melatonin production throughout the daytime.


3. Antidepressant medication


With the assistance of a doctor, antidepressants can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. It may take a few weeks to take effect so seniors may benefit from beginning the medication before the start of the winter months.


4. Exercising


Taking a short walk, chair yoga or Pilates are all forms of low-impact exercise that can increase endorphins and lower SAD symptoms.


5. Reducing alcohol consumption


A natural depressant, alcohol can often extend the symptoms of SAD. Encouraging your loved one to limit their consumption or avoid alcohol altogether can help these symptoms.


Want to learn more about finding a senior living community for a loved one with SAD? Welcome Home Senior Services & Placement Co. can help. Contact us today to speak with our senior placement specialists, who can connect you with any of the hundreds of Florida communities we represent.

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