Seasonal Affective Disorder and Older Adults

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Older Adults

As daylight hours decrease in the winter months, it is common to feel a little more tired than usual. Feeling sad or depressed can also increase during the winter, though some people experience something more significant than the “winter blues.” Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that occurs during the same time each year, specifically in the late fall or winter. 

If you or your loved one finds yourself feeling depressed every winter, knowing when to seek medical help can drastically affect quality of life and overall wellness. Here’s what you need to know about seasonal affective disorder and how it affects how we age.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Facts

Seasonal affective disorder can affect anyone, no matter their age or where they live. However, the risk of the disorder does increase with age. Women are also more likely to experience SAD than men, and those who live in areas of the world where it is darker for longer each day are at a higher risk.

Seasonal affective disorder shares similar symptoms as depression, but the key is the onset and timing. SAD appears to arrive with a change of seasons, specifically winter, and then leaves when the season is over.

Symptoms of SAD

Seasonal affective disorder causes symptoms that affect daily life. These symptoms vary from person to person but can include:

  • Sleeping too much
  • Eating too much
  • Social isolation 
  • Feeling helpless or distraught
  • Feeling fatigued or exhausted, even with proper sleep
  • Having trouble concentrating

If you or your loved one are experiencing signs of depression or SAD, schedule an appointment with a physician. A doctor can perform a depression screening and develop a treatment plan that can include prescription medications, talk therapy, and complementary lifestyle habits.

The Quality of Life Connection

Adults living with seasonal affective disorder often isolate themselves, which can lead to health complications that include cognitive decline, heart disease and even premature death. But it isn’t just the lack of social connection that can make living with SAD unhealthy.

Depression, including SAD, can make it feel impossible to get the energy to get out of the home for a walk or to attend a group fitness class. Eating more can lead to weight gain or even more serious challenges – like fluctuating blood sugar. Feeling distracted or disorganized can lead to trouble keeping up with bills or work obligations.

In short, SAD negatively affects quality of life. However, the right treatment and complementary lifestyle changes can reduce or eliminate symptoms so that the person can lead a healthy and full season.

Tips for Coping

If you or your loved one are living with seasonal affective disorder, here are a few tips for coping with the winter season so that you can feel your best:

  • Schedule doctor appointments and keep up with any follow-up appointments
  • Keep social obligations, even if you feel the urge to isolate. Tell yourself you can show up and if you still aren’t feeling like it after joining, you can always leave after 30 minutes.
  • Move your body everyday, even if it is just a quick walk around the neighborhood.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages.
  • Set a consistent bedtime and wake time. 
  • Get outside when the sun is up as early in your day as possible.

Remember, depression is never a normal sign of aging. Follow up with a physician with signs of depression no matter what season you experience them in.

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