Let’s face it, winter time is not the most enjoyable time of the year, with most of the population dreading the onset of the long, cold and dark months still to come with winter.
To add to this, winter comes with its fair share of hazards too – slippery, icy surfaces, increased hours of darkness, risks of hypothermia and more. For the elderly, winter is an especially difficult time of year which poses some serious risks, including increased opportunity for falls, accidents, illness, depression and the lesser known Season Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
When it comes to winter time, feeling a little blue or down in the dumps is natural for many seniors, whether they are frail or able-bodied. However, if this feeling of sadness lasts longer than two weeks, this is a warning flag for SAD.
Essentially, SAD is a form of depression that is brought on by certain seasons throughout the year – most notably, the winter season. While SAD can be experienced during any season of the year, winter is when it most commonly arises in the elderly.
Some of the most common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- A lack of energy
- A loss of appetite
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Increased irritability
- Becoming increasingly unsociable
Symptoms of SAD are more common in women, while the main difference between general depression and SAD is its seasonal effect on the elderly. The general decline in sunlight and warmth during winter tends to impact circadian rhythms, causing hormonal variations which results in feelings of depression.
How to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
As SAD is so similar to many other variations of depression, it can be treated with antidepressants or a less invasive means known as light therapy.
If you have a loved one who is prone to the onset of SAD each winter and who has used antidepressant medication before to manage the condition, you should make sure they begin their course of medication a few weeks prior to the onset of winter.
Light therapy makes use of a ‘light box’ which is comprised of a fluorescent lamp used to simulate natural sunlight. Just make sure you purchase a good quality light box which uses a filter to block out harmful UV rays. Typically, your loved one should use the light box for a period of 30 -45 minutes per day to decrease levels of melatonin in the body, and increase feel-good hormones such as serotonin and epinephrine.
Light therapy is known to have the same effects on the body as taking antidepressants. So if you feel that your loved one doesn’t need yet another medication to remember to take each day, light therapy could be a solution to SAD.
Of course, there is also the natural effects of sunlight and the fresh air of being outdoors. If your care receiver is up to it, make sure to dress them warmly and spend a good 30 minutes outdoors on the days of bright sunshine for a positive effect on their mood.