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How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Affects Seniors?

With the winter weather setting in, many people are currently making changes to their daily routines to adjust to the cold temperatures and short daylight hours. If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, it’s not unusual to spend more time at home or to feel more bored and restless than you do in the summer. For some people, though, the change in seasons brings about some serious mental health concerns. If you or your aging loved one shows the signs or symptoms of depression in the winter, it might be the result of seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is an unfortunately common mental health condition. It can cause distressing symptoms for several months out of the year, and it’s important to take it seriously if you notice the signs in yourself or someone else. Older adults may be particularly vulnerable to developing seasonal depression, but there are many effective strategies to reduce the symptoms and cope with the disorder.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that sets in or gets worse during the winter. People with SAD may experience no or minimal mental health symptoms during the spring, summer, and early fall, but as the days get shorter, the winter weather has a severe effect on their mood and energy level.
SAD is most likely caused by the changes in daylight in the wintertime. The decrease in the amount of natural light can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm and lead to a number of hormonal changes that influence your mood. Social and environmental factors may play a role, too. Cold temperatures, darkness, and inclement weather can keep people at home and away from their family or friends, and this isolation may affect your mental and emotional health.

Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Get Worse With Age?

Seasonal affective disorder can affect people at any age. The rates of seasonal depression are higher in areas that have more intense winters, but no mental health issue discriminates. Older adults are just as likely to experience SAD as younger adults, and they may even be more at risk.
At any time of year, older adults are more likely than younger adults to struggle with isolation and loneliness. During your retirement, you might not have as many opportunities to be social as you once did, especially if you have limited mobility or health issues that make it hard to go out. A lack of social support and regular interaction with friends and family is a major contributor to depression in older adults.
Winter weather adds another complication to this difficult situation. Cold, snowy, or icy weather can be dangerous for seniors, so older adults may have to spend more time at home in the winter to stay safe. They might not see their loved ones often enough, and there may not be many opportunities to spend time in nature or go out in the community due to inclement weather.
Another possible cause of seasonal affective disorder in the elderly is vitamin D deficiency. Natural sunlight is one of the main sources of vitamin D, so it can be harder to get a sufficient amount of the vitamin in the winter. The deficiency is fairly common in people of all ages, but older adults are at an increased risk due to the physical health changes that happen as you age. Vitamin D plays a key role in regulating your mood and energy levels, so a deficiency can cause depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors

All types of depression can go overlooked in seniors. The symptoms are often attributed to cognitive decline or to the normal effects of aging, so older adults may not get the mental health treatment they need to improve their well-being. Being watchful for the signs of depression is essential so that you can offer support to your loved ones when they need it.
The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to the symptoms of other depressive disorders, but they mostly appear in the winter. The following are the most common signs of SAD to look out for in seniors:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or guilty most of the time
  • Loss of interest in hobbies that were once enjoyable
  • Fatigue, brain fog, or lack of energy
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Changes in weight or appetite

Many of the symptoms of SAD mirror symptoms of other health conditions. Visiting your primary care doctor is an excellent first step to take if you notice these signs in yourself. Your doctor may take some tests or ask you follow-up questions to rule out other health issues. If they confirm that your symptoms are caused by seasonal affective disorder or another mental health condition, they can then help you find resources for treatment.

Treatments for SAD

Seasonal affective disorder is a treatable mental health condition. If you or an aging loved one has been struggling with SAD, help is available.
One of the most common treatments for seasonal affective disorder is light therapy, which is the use of a light box to increase your body’s exposure to light in the winter. The light box emits light that has a similar effect on your body as sunlight, so it can be a great way to regulate your circadian rhythm and control your levels of certain hormones and neurotransmitters that affect your mood and energy.
Your primary care doctor can recommend an at-home treatment regimen with a light therapy box. In most cases, people sit in front of the light box for about 30 minutes per day in the winter to get the full effects of the therapy.
Lifestyle changes can be helpful for managing SAD, too. While you may not be able to completely overcome a mental health disorder through lifestyle changes, you can improve your overall sense of well-being and reduce your symptoms by taking active measures to protect your physical and mental health. For example, eating healthy and balanced meals can improve your energy levels, which may make the symptoms of SAD feel more manageable.
Regular social interaction is incredibly helpful for mental health, too. Even though it may feel difficult to be social during the cold, dark, and gloomy weather, spending time with family and friends can make a big difference in your emotional state.
Senior counseling is also a great resource for managing SAD. In therapy, you can explore the causes of your seasonal depression and discover the factors that might make your symptoms worse. Your counselor will help you find coping skills for negative thoughts so that these thoughts don’t control your beliefs about yourself or the world.
You deserve to feel happy and well year-round, and learning to manage your seasonal affective disorder symptoms is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for older adults struggling with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other mental health concerns. You can contact us today to learn more about our services.

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