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Many people of all ages get the “winter blues” when the holidays are over and the days are darker with less sunshine. This can be a sign of depression or it can be Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects many older people every year.
Defining Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, as it is commonly referred to, is a real condition that affects many people, especially older women, but it can affect anyone of any gender.
In colder areas, SAD is more common in the elderly due to a lack of vitamin D that our bodies make from sunshine. Winter clouds and overcast weather usually don’t lend themselves to as much sunshine in the fall and winter months.
Vitamin D is very important to have healthy bones and hearts, prevents certain cancers and diabetes and it also increases the immune functions for an overall feeling of well being.
Senior citizens often have weaker bones as they age and this doesn’t enable them to get as much vitamin D as they did when they were younger. The winter weather can also be an obstacle for many of the elderly, so they are not able to get outside for natural sunlight.
Identifying SAD In Seniors
Signs and symptoms vary from person to person, but if your loved one has SAD, you may notice the following:
- Major depression as a feeling for most of the day
- loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- changes in sleep patterns and/or weight changes, either by gaining or losing weight
- SAD patients will usually have a low amount of energy and feel worthless or hopeless while having difficulty concentrating on tasks and, in severe cases, can have thoughts of suicide or death
These symptoms of SAD last about 4 to 5 months out of the year and they recur every year or most years.
Winter and Fall SAD vs. Spring and Summer SAD
It’s most common for the elderly to experience winter and fall SAD, but some may also experience spring and summer SAD. The major signs and symptoms of each are the same, with some additional ones depending on the time of the year.
Symptoms of Fall and Winter SAD
Winter and fall SAD can also include oversleeping, overeating and craving carbohydrates, gaining weight and social withdrawal.
Symptoms of Spring and Summer SAD
The symptoms for spring and summer SAD are basically the opposite of these, including insomnia or trouble sleeping, poor appetite that leads to weight loss, agitated and restless with anxiety and even episodes of violent behavior.
How SAD Affect Other Mental Disorders
SAD is also more prevalent in patients that already have been diagnosed with specific conditions, such as depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, which are both types of mental depression to begin with. Many senior citizens ask “what is a seasonal affective disorder”, because they definitely feel more depressed at specific times of the year.
Persons that have already been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression will usually experience all of these symptoms at a higher level as well as a high level of stress. Most patients will begin to display signs of SAD in their 30’s or bit later in life.
Ways To Treat SAD in Seniors
Since the lack of natural sunlight to make a body create vitamin D is present in SAD, a light box may be prescribed to patients as a solution. It’s a light box for light therapy that a person turns on and sits in front of for about 30 to 45 minutes per day to simulate natural light and gain vitamin D.
Treating SAD With A Vitamin D Diet
Since SAD is a depressive disorder, a physician may prescribe an antidepressant in combination with light therapy and recommend foods that are high in Vitamin D as well. Vitamin D-rich foods include beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and salmon. Some types of milk, cereals and yogurt as well as juices may be fortified with vitamin D.
How is SAD Diagnosed?
Many people ask “what is a seasonal affective disorder.” If you think your loved one may have SAD, it’s important to seek professional help from your therapist. Therapists need to know all of the signs and symptoms that are being displayed in order to make a diagnosis and form a plan of treatment.
The diagnosis includes the above signs and symptoms at the specific times of the year, in fall and winter or spring and summer. Usually the signs must be present for 2 consecutive years for a SAD diagnosis and the episodes of depression are much more severe than a senior citizen that already has some sort of depression that they are being treated for as well.
Our senior advisors can help you to find the perfect senior community with highly educated staff members who can help with all of your senior issues, including the best health possible and help with any disorders you or a loved one may have.