Is That Miserable Feeling Simply A Case Of Winter Gloom Or Could It Be Something More Serious?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), seen throughout the senior health care industry, is an actual disorder that results in a seasonal depression due to a lack of daylight exposure that throws off one’s biological clock (or circadian rhythms). It can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, and a disruption in the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Once spring hits, the symptoms disappear. 

The symptoms of SAD typically include sadness, fatigue, irritability, sleeping more and concentrating less. Instead of experiencing a loss of appetite as you’ll find with depression, SAD sufferers crave carbohydrates like pasta and bread, which can result in weight gain.

SAD is more common among women. Family history plays a role. Complications include thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, and social withdrawal. Therefore, a medical professional must address the disorder.

To determine a diagnosis of SAD, doctors will look to see if there is a pattern. If the symptoms have occurred before at this time of year and get better once the season changes, it is an indication that this could be the problem.

Senior Health Treatment

1. Light therapy (phototherapy), which is believed to reset the patient’s biological clock, is the primary treatment. A standard regimen is 30 minutes to two hours a day. Most people start to feel better within a week or so. However, the recommendation is to continue the treatment until the season changes. There are two types:

  • Bright light treatment, using a light box a certain distance away on a desk or table. 
  • Dawn simulation, in which a dim light goes on in the morning while the patient sleeps, getting brighter over time like a sunrise.

2. Antidepressant medicines alone or along with light therapy may also be prescribed. However, non-pharmacological treatments for SAD are simpler to implement and can make a huge difference. Psychotherapy may also help by teaching patients how to manage their symptoms and prevent future episodes.

3. Outside exercise is another recommendation. The goal is to energize patients and make them feel less depressed, as well as expose them to sunlight.

4. Supplements have no scientific evidence supporting them, but some people find using them offers some relief.

Why Are Seniors At Risk For Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Although SAD impacts adults of all ages, lifestyle and age are contributing factors. The risk of SAD in the elderly is increased by a family history of depression, a pre-existing condition, isolation, and the recent death of a loved one. Older adults may receive less exposure to natural sunlight and time outdoors because of restricted mobility, reside in a facility, or are considered homebound. Underlying chronic conditions can also be aggravated during the cold, dark winter months.

Keep Hibernian Home Care in mind and the senior health care services that we provide. Our professional caregivers can assist by making ambient tweaks in the home to welcome more natural sunlight into the rooms where your loved one spends most of their time or accompany your loved one on outside activities. To learn more about individualized Home Care services in New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean Counties, contact us at 732-481-1148.