When the holiday season ends and winter kicks in, it is natural for seniors to feel a bit downhearted. But, if this feeling persists for over a week, your loved one might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
SAD can cause serious physical and mental disturbance among the elderly. Steps should be taken to alleviate the symptoms to avoid severe consequences.
How can the elderly relieve the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Before getting to the tips on how to ease the symptoms of SAD, it is useful to understand what it is, its principal causes, and the prominent symptoms.
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a kind of depression caused by the changing season. Its symptoms usually start in the fall and increase during winter.
SAD is also known as seasonal depression, winter blues, or winter depression. Although it is mostly related to winter, SAD can occur during spring and summer as well. In this case, it is sometimes referred to as summer depression.
The exact causes of SAD are still unknown. Some factors that are thought to initiate it are:
Low serotonin levels:
Serotonin is a brain chemical or neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Lower exposure to sunlight can reduce the level of serotonin, causing depression as a result.
High melatonin levels:
Melatonin is a hormone that helps maintain sleep patterns and mood. If the level of melatonin is too high, it can cause drowsiness.
Vitamin D deficiency:
The reduced level of sunlight can cause a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is known to enhance serotonin. Thus, its deficiency lowers serotonin levels, causing depression.
Disruption of the biological clock:
The decrease in sunlight can cause a disruption of the body’s biological clock. This disturbance may result in depression.
Signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of depression.
Seniors can take the following actions to avoid or alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder:
Increase the level of vitamin D:
As discussed above, vitamin D deficiency is one of the causes of SAD. Seniors can increase their vitamin D level by:
This is the most commonly used treatment for SAD. In light therapy, a machine called ‘Light Box’ is used to expose the body to artificial light similar to the sunlight. The machine filters the UV rays of light to avoid damage to the skin and eyes.
Light therapy is particularly useful in winter SAD because there is less natural sunlight available. Exposure to light increases the level of vitamin D in the body, which boosts serotonin as well. Moreover, this also helps reduce melatonin levels.
30-45 minutes of light therapy are enough during the day. If natural sunlight is available, it is more preferable as compared to the lightbox.
For seniors, social interactions can be few and far between- especially if they are in aging in place and don’t have in-home care care. There are quite a few reasons for this:
Whatever the reason may be, isolation can lead to depression and anxiety, making the seniors prone to SAD. Seniors and their loved ones should take special steps to create opportunities for social interaction.
With today’s technology, interacting with others is easier than ever. If physical presence is not possible, they can use messages, audio calls, and video calls for fulfilling their social needs.
Diet and exercise:
As discussed above, seniors can regulate their vitamin D, serotonin, and melatonin levels through proper diet and supplements. In addition, physical exercise can do wonders in terms of keeping the body and mind healthy.
Exercising helps release healthy hormones in the body, including serotonin. These hormones are helpful in fighting depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
This sounds great in theory, but exercising can be difficult for the elderly because of a physical impairment or a lack of interest and energy. The best solution is to come up with fun and convenient ways to integrate physical activities into their daily life. For example, if it is not safe for the seniors to go outside, they should maintain an at-home exercise routine.
The seniors can combine exercising and social interaction with their fellows to boost the physical and mental health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common depressive condition that can happen to anyone, but senior citizens can be especially vulnerable. Often due to physical or cognitive decline, seniors are home-bound and can’t get out into nature much- especially in the middle of a cold and icy winter. Take the steps above to combat this not-uncommon condition and help alleviate seasonal depression.