Elders and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

We have all been touched by a bit of the winter blues at one time or another.  The early sunset makes most of us want to put on our pajamas and settle in by the fire or the television much earlier than usual!  However, while it isn’t unusual to suffer some minor episodes of the winter blues – there are those who will be affected by a more serious version – Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately referred to as SAD.

Though SAD is thought to affect mostly females prior to the age of 55, it can occur later in life.  Because of the cold temperatures and chances for snow and ice, older adults are more likely to stay indoors which may increase the incidence of SAD.  Older adults are also at risk for social isolation during the winter months, as family and friends will stay home more often as well.

SAD is more common in areas that experience the changes of the winter season more prominently.  It is thought that the decrease in sunlight is a primary cause of SAD.  Less sunshine and more overcast skies, as well as shorter periods of daylight in early fall to late spring have an impact on developing SAD.

Signs of SAD are very similar to depression in general and it is important to be evaluated by your physician if you are concerned. Physicians will determine if there are other causes for your symptoms and look for patterns to determine if you are one of the many who suffer from SAD.  Symptoms of SAD include loss of energy, mood swings and/or feeling anxious and sad, social isolation, sleepiness and lethargy.  People affected with SAD will also show little interest in normal activities, and often experience an increase in appetite and weight gain.

Dependent upon the effects of the symptoms in your daily life your physician will determine a course of therapy if needed.  Medication is available and has been found to help, more so if started prior to the onset of symptoms.  A form of Light Therapy has also been found to be beneficial.  Your physician may also prescribe Vitamin D.  Older adults are at risk for Vitamin D deficiency in general, and the decrease in sunlight during the winter months may warrant adding this important supplement.  For others, a physician may recommend counseling as an alternative to medication.

Whether it’s SAD of just a case of the blues, there are steps we all benefit from to lessen the effects of winter weather.  Try to get some form of natural sunlight each day.  If possible, take a few brief walks outside when weather permits.  Physical exercise is always beneficial, and can be an effective way to increase energy levels.  Exercise will lift both the mind and the spirit which may help decrease the symptoms.  Eat a healthy diet and stick to a regular sleep schedule.  Make a point to stay active, find some fun hobbies or things to do and visit with friends or family – which may be the most effective treatment of all.


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