Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Elderly
Limited outside activities, fewer hours of day light, and colder weather can influence even the happiest of people. The mood change, lack of motivation, disrupted sleep pattern, and fatigue are sometimes referred to as the winter blues in very mild cases. The technical terminology, depending on the severity, is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Often referred to as SAD for short, is a form of depression. Senior citizens are at a greater risk in general for depression due to a number of reasons. Other than demographics additional factors can include a lack of mobility, inability or difficulty doing activities independently or without assistance, and minimal contact with other people. What makes SAD slightly different that other forms of depression are that it is cyclical with the change in the seasons. Usually the episodes start around the end of fall or beginning of winter and go away during the spring and summer months. Depressive periods related to the summer can occur, but they are far less common than winter occurrences of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
UnityPoint Health explains, “As winter kicks into full gear, less sunlight and colder weather can leave many of us feeling tired and less enthusiastic for completing normal activities. For around 500,000 Americans, these factors can lead to a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can require medical treatment. Another 20 percent will combat a more mild form of SAD called seasonal depression or the ‘winter blues’.”
What makes an individual more at risk for SAD?
Age-Some believe that Seasonal Affective Disorder is more prominent in younger adults than in elderly and it is believed to less likely occur with age but that could be a skewed result. Most people who are first diagnosed with SAD are between 18 to 30. However, depression is often undiagnosed and under-treated in elderly adults. Many times, the symptoms often go unrecognized or misinterpreted for another disorder, such as dementia.
Gender- Three out of four people with SAD are women. However, men who are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder often experience more severe symptoms.
Genetics- Family history makes a person more at risk. Having relatives who’ve experienced SAD or another type of depression puts you at greater risk.
Location- SAD is more frequent in people who live farther north or south from the equator. For example, nine percent of people who live in New England or Alaska and one percent of people who live in Florida suffer from SAD.
To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
Symptoms of depression can vary greatly in older adults, but may include:
Persistent fidgeting or pacing
Extreme weight gain or loss
Trouble sleeping (sleeping too much or insomnia)
Trouble concentrating or maintaining attention
Extreme feelings of sadness that persists, tearful or weepy, short-tempered and irritable
Thoughts of death or suicide
Sleepiness and fatigue
Lethargy or a loss of energy
Withdrawing from favorite groups, hobbies, and organizations
Change in personal hygiene
Preventing/ Coping with SAD
Avoid or limit intake of alcohol, sugary foods, sodas, and sweets
Begin a daily exercise schedule like walking or swimming and a mindful form of exercise, such as chair yoga or Pilates
Eat a healthy diet consisting of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables
Spend time with family, friends and loved ones on a regular basis
Talk to your doctor about cognitive behavioral therapy, light therapy, and medication for more severe cases.