Seasonal Affective Disorder & Seniors

If you live in northern New York, it’s hard not to feel a little melancholy during the winter months. With limited daylight, cold temperatures and gray skies, winter can feel downright gloomy. Unfortunately, for people who suffer from depression, or those who are more susceptible to it, this time of year can further exacerbate symptoms. Even normally happy individuals may find they are more prone to sadness on cold, sunless days.

This increased presence of depression symptoms during the winter months is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition that affects more women than men, and is common among seniors.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Senior man looking grim amongst treesSeasonal Affective disorder, also called SAD, is not a separate condition, but rather a type of depression that cycles with the seasons. It can occur any time of year, but is most prevalent during the winter months, when the decrease in daylight tends to throw off our natural circadian rhythms and cause hormonal changes. These effects can be compounded if a person is unable to regularly spend time outside, which is why seniors, who are more prone to hypothermia and winter slips and falls, are at greater risk for SAD.

Seasonal affective disorder can be easier to treat than other types of depression because it is a temporary condition, primarily linked to the lack of sunlight. Limited exposure to the sun during the winter can disrupt sleep patterns, and cause a Vitamin D deficiency, as well as a drop in the feel good brain chemical, serotonin, which leads to poor health and depression. However, knowing the signs and symptoms of SAD, makes it easier to identify, treat and prevent it.

Signs & Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

While it may seem normal to feel a bit melancholy in the winter, especially after the holidays, if these feelings persist for more than a week or two it could be seasonal affective disorder.

• Loss of energy
• Sleeping too much
• Overeating (craving carbohydrates)
• Weight gain
• Loss of interest in activities
• Social withdrawal (a desire to “hibernate”)
• Feelings of hopelessness

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder in Seniors

In severe cases, medication may be needed to treat seasonal affective disorder, but sun lamps and Vitamin D supplements have also been proven effective. Other natural treatments for seniors with seasonal affective disorder include eating heathy, being active, staying connected and keeping the mind engaged.

Eating Healthy

While you may crave heavy, fatty comfort foods during the colder months, giving into those cravings can actually have a negative effect on your mood. Rich holiday foods, sweet treats and overindulging can leave you feeling lethargic and less likely to be active. In addition, an unhealthy diet can lead to weight gain and put you at risk for diabetes and heart disease. This combination of lethargy and poor health are the perfect recipe for seasonal depression. Instead, try eating foods rich in Vitamin C, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids to boost the immune system and fight off the winter blues.

Being Active

Countless studies have proven the positive effects of physical activity on the mind and body. Not only does it help keep your muscles and joints strong and healthy, exercise can actually boost serotonin, the body’s natural mood enhancer. Just taking a 20-30 minute walk each day can help. While it may be too blustery for a walk outside, many residents at the Eddy Senior Living Communities enjoy walking the enclosed hallways, attending scheduled exercise classes and using the wellness centers.

Keeping the Mind Engaged

Much like the body, the mind needs exercise to stay healthy and engaged. Boredom can actually contribute to seasonal depression, so swap TV time for reading, puzzles and games. Take up a new hobby, join a weekly card game or sign up for the knitting club. Many of our senior living communities have groups that meet regularly. For instance, one campus hosts a Mahjong Club and Bridge Club every Monday.

Staying Connected

To prevent social withdrawal, which is both a warning sign and a byproduct of seasonal depression, consider joining a regularly scheduled class or signing up to volunteer. The Eddy Senior Living Communities plan several social events and activities during the winter and provide residents with a variety of volunteer opportunities. You’ll feel less inclined to cancel if you know others in your community are counting on you, and you’ll be encouraged to engage socially and create new friendships, thereby warding off depression.

Looking for More Healthy Living Tips for Seniors?

Read our blog on Seniors Staying Healthy During the Holidays or check out the Benefits of Physical Therapy for Seniors.

Eddy Senior Living provides seniors with the full continuum of care at five beautiful senior living communities in Niskayuna, Queensbury, Troy, Slingerlands and East Greenbush. To learn more about our independent senior living, enriched housing & assisted living communities, or to inquire about skilled nursing and memory care, please call (877) 748-3339 to speak with a senior living specialist.