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Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Seniors

As temperatures drop and the days get shorter, your senior loved one may start to experience bouts of sadness, loss of energy, and changes in appetite, mood, and sleep habits. Although the “winter blues” are common this time of year, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) goes beyond just feeling down. In this article we’ll look into SAD, its symptoms and how Presidio Home Care Aides can provide your loved one with the support they need to manage and treat seasonal depression.

Causes of SAD

SAD is a form of depression that sets in or worsens as winter progresses. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about half a million people in the United States suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), with 10% to 20% experiencing a milder form of SAD known as the “winter blues.”

Researchers don’t know the exact causes of seasonal depression; however, findings suggest that limited sunlight can trigger changes like:

  • Vitamin D deficiency – Sometimes referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is essential to supporting the immune system, strong bones, and a healthy heart. The body produces vitamin D when skin is exposed to sunlight. If your senior loved one is deficient in vitamin D, it could be because they’ve lacked exposure to natural light — due to limited mobility, diet, and shorter days — resulting in changes to serotonin levels and mood swings.

  • Biological clock change – With less sunlight, the body’s biological clock shifts. Our internal clock regulates mood, sleep and hormones. Sudden shifts can cause disruptions to your schedule and make it more difficult to adjust to changes in daylight.

  • Melatonin boost – Melatonin is a chemical that affects sleep patterns and mood. A lack of sunlight could stimulate an overproduction of melatonin, causing people to feel sluggish or sleepy during the winter months.

  • Negative thoughts – People with SAD often suffer from stress, anxiety and negative thoughts about the winter. If your family member has limited mobility and limited social connections, they could feel isolated, which may contribute to negative thoughts.

SAD Treatment

If your family member has been diagnosed with SAD, his or her care team may recommend a specific course of action to help manage their symptoms. Some treatment options include:

  • Getting more vitamin D – If your loved one suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, exposure to sunlight via spending time outdoors or near a window — or through a well-balanced diet and supplements — could also help boost vitamin D production.

  • Light therapy – If your family member has limited mobility or getting outdoors to get natural light exposure just isn’t possible, using a light box could help deliver a therapeutic dose of bright light to counter their symptoms. Light boxes are designed to mimic outdoor light while filtering out most or all UV light.

  • Staying active – Remaining physically and socially active could help fend off the winter blues. Spending time with family and friends could improve an elderly adult’s overall wellness. In fact, studies report that social relationships are closely linked to biomarkers of health. Individuals who are more socially active are often healthier.

  • Antidepressants – It’s possible that your aging loved one may need to take prescription medications to help correct the chemical imbalance that may have led to SAD. A combination of medication and talk therapy could provide the relief they need.

Presidio Home Care Aides understand that living with SAD can be a challenging and isolating experience, especially during the holidays. Our Home Care Aides are kind, patient, and passionate professionals that are ready to provide companionship, keep them active, help administer medications and work directly with your medical team. Contact Your local office today to learn more.

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