February 1, 2022

staving off the winter blues

recognize and Manage Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder - Elderly Woman Looking Out Window

Winter is here… and with it comes less sunlight and cold, dreary weather. During the winter many of us may experience a sadness that results from a lack of sunshine or the end of the holidays; when these blues persist, however, these “low” feelings can become a problem.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD) can leave people of any age in a depressive state. This seasonal depression is thought to arise with the changes of sunlight exposure that we experience because of shorter winter days, gray skies, and more inclement weather. With less sunlight, chemicals in the brain, (like melatonin and serotonin) can be adversely affected. These chemicals help you get to sleep and feel awake respectively.

In older adults, SAD symptoms include [1]:

  • Sleepiness and fatigue
  • Feelings of sadness that don’t go away
  • Lethargy or a loss of energy
  • Problems sleeping including both insomnia and too much sleep
  • Unintended weight gain or weight loss
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Withdrawal from favorite groups, hobbies, and organizations
  • Difficulty concentrating and maintaining a sustained attention span
  • Changes in personal hygiene
  • Short-tempered and irritable behavior
  • Tearful or weepy moods

Being aware of the signs of SAD in ourselves and our loved ones can help us avoid falling into deeper depression and improve our quality of life. It’s normal to feel down some days. However, feeling down for multiple days at a time and finding once-enjoyable activities to be uninteresting are signs that it’s time to visit the doctor [2]. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), SAD occurs more often in women than in men and is more common in people with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, particularly the latter [6]. 

The good news is that like other forms of depression, SAD can be treated with many lifestyle changes. Symptoms can be alleviated through bright light therapy. Light boxes and lamps that simulate natural sunlight can help decrease melatonin (the chemical associated with sleep) in a person’s body during the daytime hours. Regular exercise and other types of physical activity can help reduce stress, anxiety, and other SAD symptoms [3]. Music and talk therapy can also be strong tools for reducing depressive symptoms [4]. Finally, SAD can be treated with antidepressant medications.

Vitamin D levels can also severely decrease with less exposure to sunlight. Older bodies are less efficient at using sunlight to produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiencies can affect people of all ages but are particularly dangerous for older adults.

A vitamin D deficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test but may also be tricky to treat. To help prevent this deficiency, older adults should consume foods that are fortified with vitamin D such as beef liver, egg yolks, cheeses, and fatty fish like salmon. Look for certain varieties of milk, yogurt, cereals, and juices that may contain extra doses of vitamin D [2].

Although SAD may seem difficult—even daunting—to manage, it’s important to remember that SAD is treatable and won’t last forever. Remember these tips to help manage symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder [5]:

  • Decrease alcohol use to one or two glasses per week.
  • Try to do about 30 minutes of exercise throughout each day.
  • Be sure to stay involved in usual activities as much as possible
  • Spend more time with family and friends.
  • Eat a balanced diet and reduce sugar intake.

Finally, try to engage in symptom-reducing activities before winter arrives. Engage in self-care and reach out if you or a loved one need support.

Resources

[1] How to Recognize Seasonal Depression in a Senior

[2] Seasonal Depression in the Elderly

[3] 4 Ways Seniors and Caregivers Can Prevent and Manage Seasonal Depression

[4] How Seasonal Affective Disorder Affects Dementia Care

[5] What You Need to Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors

[6] What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Enjoy the article? Be sure to Subscribe to Winter Growth’s Live Joyfully Blog to receive a notification when new posts are available!

Winter Growth’s founder dreamed of creating a community where seniors and adults with disabilities could continue to learn and grow – filling their lives with joy and purpose. For over 40 years, we have fulfilled her vision by providing unique, affordable Assisted Living/Memory Care and Adult Medical Day Care tailored to our clients’ individual abilities, interests, and lives.

Comments (1)

Barbara Bednarzik

Another helpful blog for seniors and all people affected by seasonal affective disorder. So well researched. Thank you again this month for information to help all of us navigate through the winter time.

Comments are closed.

X