Seasonal Depression Affects Older Adults
November 8, 2023 | View PDF
As the days get shorter and the evenings/nights get longer some of us may suffer from the "winter blues", also known as Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that usually affects people during the winter months. It's more likely to affect people whose time spent outdoors is limited by severe weather, reduced mobility, or illness. With decreased exposure to sunlight a person's natural "body clock" rhythm can change and less sun exposure during shorter winter days can cause changes in brain chemistry – like serotonin and melatonin levels.
Serotonin is known as the happy chemical as it regulates mood, while melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in our sleep habits. When there are changes to these chemicals and hormones, it can cause symptoms of depression.
Risk factors of SAD:
• SAD is more common in women than men
• People with a family history or personal experience with depression
• Low blood levels of vitamin D
• Living far from the equator where there's less sunlight increases the risk of SAD.
Symptoms of SAD can include:
• Lack of energy
• Feeling sluggish
• Loss of interest in activities
• Irritability and agitation
• Increased need for sleep and/or problems with sleep
• Trouble concentrating
• Becoming anti-social, wanting to be alone
• Increase in appetite or weight gain
• Feelings of worthlessness
• Feeling tearful or weepy
Ways to prevent and manage SAD symptoms
Increase exposure to natural light, this can be done by opening curtains and blinds so that more natural comes into your home. Try spending the majority of your time in the brightest rooms in the house. Also, when the weather allows get outside in the sun for about 10 minutes every day.
If you have mobility issues or the weather forces you to stay inside for days at a time light therapy lamps can help increase light exposure. Before using a light therapy lamp, please check with your doctor to ensure it is the best treatment, as the wrong intensity or amount of light may cause problems.
Getting regular exercise (30 minutes) such as walking, swimming can help reduce overall stress and anxiety, also doing some form of mindful exercise such as chair yoga or Pilates can help to reduce symptoms of SAD.
Other things that may help with symptoms of SAD can include eating a healthy diet that contains, lean meats, fruit, vegetables and decrease or eliminate surgery foods from your diet. Spending time with family and friends can also give you a boost from Seasonal affective disorder.
Lastly if you are concerned that you or older family member may have seasonal depression, don't hesitate to talk to your health care provider.
The healthcare provider will be able to properly diagnose the cause of the symptoms and make recommendations that will help you feel better.