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For many people, this time of year is associated with a focus on the changing weather, holiday celebrations, and quality time with family and friends. However, for some, the end of the year may bring about bittersweet reactions, as this time period can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is a form of depression that cycles between changing seasons, but is most commonly noted in the fall and winter.
Although the most prevalent age of onset for this type of depression is 20-30 years old, SAD has also been noted in the elderly and should not be ignored or overlooked in senior citizens.
In older adults, SAD can show itself through many varying symptoms and can be caused by a number of both internal and external factors. Continue reading to learn more about seasonal depression in the elderly and ways it can be reduced or combatted.
Causes of Seasonal Depression in Seniors
There are many plausible causes for seasonal depression in elderly adults. Becoming familiar with these causes and comparing them to your own personal circumstances may bring you closer to finding ways to combat the disorder that work for you.
Each patient diagnosed with SAD will have unique struggles, however some of the most prevalent causes (in addition to changing seasons) can include the following:
- Genetics: Those who have a family history of depression are more likely to develop this form of seasonal depression than those who do not.
- Gender: Females are four times more likely to be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder than males.
- Daylight Saving Time: Another possible trigger for SAD may be Daylight Saving Time, as it accounts for the sun setting earlier than usual and occurs annually in autumn, which is a peak time of year for this depression.
- Living Further from the Equator: Those who live further from the equator may experience the symptoms of seasonal depression more frequently than others. This is because the inevitable reduction in sunlight that occurs in your location may reduce your levels of serotonin, a brain chemical regulating your mood.
SAD Symptoms Noted in the Elderly
The causes of seasonal depression mentioned above may generate a number of varying symptoms. These symptoms can fluctuate depending on your age, location, genetics, the time of year, and more, and may include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
- Oversleeping or difficulty sleeping/fatigue
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Feelings of hopelessness, irritability or worthlessness
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Unexpected weight loss or gain
- Lower amounts of energy
If you’re dealing with any of these symptoms at a level where you are experiencing a regular disruption in your life, we recommend seeking out a doctor or healthcare professional who can work with you to determine what treatment options may be right for you.
Questions for Seniors with SAD Can Ask a Doctor
If you decide to visit a doctor to work toward alleviating these varying symptoms, it is imperative that you and your doctor are on the same page regarding your mental health. To do this, we recommend having a two-way conversation where you may ask your doctor a series of questions, such as:
- Are there any other alternative causes for my symptoms besides SAD?
- What treatments for SAD have been effective for seniors in the past?
- Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to combat my symptoms?
- Should I see a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist?
In addition to asking these questions, you may want to anticipate some of the questions your doctor might ask you about your depression. Knowing the answers to these ahead of time may help in finding the right treatment for you:
- What are your symptoms? Which ones are you experience most frequently?
- Are your symptoms continuous or occasional?
- Do you have a family history or Seasonal Affective Disorder or depression?
- Are you currently taking any medications or supplements?
- Do you have any other physical or mental health conditions?
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Treatments for Depression in Seniors Citizens
Living with one or a variety of Seasonal Affective Disorder’s symptoms listed above can be trying. In addition to visiting a doctor to work toward addressing these symptoms, you may choose to seek out a variety of lifestyle changes or treatment options.
These could include the following:
- Exercise: Physical activity has been linked to reduced stress and anxiety levels, and can even improve alertness and concentration rates.
- Socializing: Planning socializing activities with other residents, family members or friends can improve your moral wellbeing and help to combat loneliness, a factor that can lead to depression.
- Going Outside: Although the peak time for seasonal depression is during colder months, a way to help combat this disorder is by getting more sun and increasing your exposure to bright light. This could mean bundling up and going on a jog outside, walking your dog, or engaging in any other outdoor activity.
- Light Therapy: Another way to get more sunlight is via light therapy, which allows you to receive light from a portable box. Sitting by one of these boxes for 30 minutes a day can stimulate the circadian rhythms in your body and suppress its melatonin releases.
- Stick to a Routine: Although we aren’t able to control elements such as Daylight Saving Time and colder weather, we can control our daily routines. Sticking with a schedule will provide consistency to your lifestyle and in turn can bring about emotional stability.
- Increase Your Vitamin D Intake: In a 2014 study by Medical Hypothesis, SAD patients who increased their vitamin D intake saw noticeable improvements in their depression rates.
Seniors should note that these treatment options may be more effective for some people over others. If you have any questions about these or other treatment options, such as medication, we recommend reaching out to your doctor.
Ways to Support a Senior with SAD
Even if you’re a senior who has never personally experienced seasonal or regular depression, it is still important to know its causes, symptoms and treatments. Knowing these things may allow you to express your support and guidance to someone you know who could be battling SAD.
There are many ways to support a senior with seasonal depression, including by:
- Doing Research: Learning about seasonal depression will only help you understand what is causing the symptoms your loved one may be facing. Getting a good sense of this information can enable you to talk to your loved one and help you work toward getting his or her mental health to a positive state.
- Checking Up on Him or Her Regularly: If you sense somebody in your life may have seasonal depression, it is important to keep an eye on them. Voicing your concerns may also be a motivating factor in the senior getting help or seeking out treatments.
- Asking Questions: Someone with depression may not think they have anybody to open up to about it. By asking them questions about their feelings, symptoms, and more, you’ll be offering a helping hand and providing them with a chance to face the disorder in a healthy way.
Bristol Village’s Priority of Health and Wellness
If you or somebody you know has experienced symptoms relating to Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can seek out help from a mental health professional or incorporate any of the treatments mentioned above into a daily routine.