Seasonal Depression and Seniors: What You Should Know

For most people, the changing of the seasons, holiday celebrations, and the ushering in of a new year can be an exciting time. However, for a sizeable part of the population, including seniors, winter can mean depression and other symptoms brought on by SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. What is seasonal depression and what are its symptoms? How do you combat seasonal depression? Here are some facts about SAD that can help you or a loved one stay positive and make the most of the winter months.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a form of depression that cycles with the seasons. While people can experience SAD any time of the year, it is most common among the winter months. For many people, SAD means feeling depressed, a loss of energy, and an increased appetite.  Women are more likely to be affected by SAD than men and seniors are also at a higher risk for seasonal depression. Many instances of SAD are misdiagnosed among Seniors for other ailments, but it’s important to properly understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment of seasonal depression

Signs of Seasonal Depression

The symptoms of SAD are very similar to general depression. Seniors suffering from SAD may experience lethargy, fatigue, a sudden lack of interest in hobbies, and oversleeping. Other symptoms can include social withdrawal, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and feelings of hopelessness. While we all have these types of troubles or emotions from time to time, it’s the length at which these symptoms last that is most important. If you find yourself or a loved one experiencing these symptoms for longer than a week, it may be time to start paying attention.

What causes SADness?

Seasonal depression is surprisingly easier to treat than other forms of depression because it is generally only temporary. The main culprit is a Vitamin D deficiency during the winter as a result of shorter daylight hours and less sunshine. Natural sunlight is an abundant source of Vitamin D and is necessary to help Seniors absorb much-needed calcium to prevent osteoporosis. The cold winter months can also mean a drop in serotonin levels and a chemical imbalance that causes depressive symptoms. Additionally, the lack of sun exposure can also play a role in deregulating your circadian rhythm. All of these factors play into seasonal depression and knowing is only half the battle.

Be Happy, not SAD

Now that you understand the symptoms and cause of seasonal depression, it’s time to talk about solutions. There are a few different ways to combat depression during the winter, but here are the most effective methods:

  • Phototherapy – light therapy is one of the more popular solutions. Buying specially designed lights that simulate sunlight can do much to help with low-lit days.
  • Go Outdoors  – It goes without saying that the more time you spend indoors, the less sunlight you are receiving. While sunshine is less abundant during the colder months, you can still catch some rays on a good day.
  • Vitamin Supplements – Adding more Vitamin D to your diet may help your body deal with the lack of sunlight it’s receiving and can offset a lot of the symptoms of seasonal depression.

Why You Should Pay Attention

Seasonal depression, like other forms of depression, can exacerbate over time and get worse. If left untreated, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, a skewed view of reality, and a less productive and fulfilling life. Winter doesn’t have to be a bleak or glum season. If identified and treated, SAD is very preventable.  If you find yourself feeling suicidal or depressed, seek help from a mental health professional immediately.