As the fall season slowly turns into winter, seasonal affective disorder (sometimes called SAD) might start afflicting more and more people. It’s estimated that around 5% of the American population is affected by SAD each winter. Let’s take a look at what seasonal affective disorder is, how to recognize it, and why it’s important to be on the lookout - especially for our elderly loved ones.
What is seasonal affective disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that is impacted by seasonal changes. Most often, it occurs during the dark, dreary months of late fall and winter, but in rare cases, it might affect individuals during the spring and/or summer. Like other types of depression, it can be mild, moderate, or severe, and the symptoms are remarkably familiar across different types:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, for several days
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Having low energy
- Changes in your appetite or weight
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Problems with sleeping
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
So why does SAD occur? Why is it tied to the fall and winter months especially? Although there isn’t a clear consensus, the following theories have been put forward as possibilities by the Mayo Clinic:
“Your biological clock (circadian rhythm): The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
Serotonin levels: A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
Melatonin levels: The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.”
How does seasonal affective disorder impact senior care citizens?
Older Americans, particularly those in nursing homes or receiving other types of senior care, might be more susceptible to the winter blues. This is because the holiday season could make elderly Americans feel more isolated than they might be already...especially if they are separated from family members or close friends. This, in addition to the seasonal and physiological changes mentioned above, could contribute to higher incidences of SAD among seniors.
How can one mitigate the effects of SAD?
Whether you have a history of suffering from major depression or not, there are tangible steps you can take to mitigate the effects of SAD. Treatments like phototherapy (mimicking exposure to natural lights), drugs, and psychotherapy are all available to those suffering with this affliction. But it’s also possible to try and ward off SAD before it gets too serious. Easy-to-implement tips include: getting outside every chance you can (especially on sunny, winter days!), scheduling social activities like playing cards or twice-weekly dinners, and making sure the older members in your family are getting to spend quality time with their loved ones. Thankfully, Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses can assist with all of these tasks and improve the quality of life for your elder loved ones during the winter months. Contact us today to learn more!