The long, dark winter months can bring with something with them called seasonal depression. This is a specific type of depression that becomes worse in the darker months and lessens a bit in the spring and the summer. Anyone can be affected by seasonal depression, but it can be especially damaging for older adults.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is also called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. It’s a type of depression that’s triggered when the days get shorter and nights get longer and therefore darker. Because of how the body’s normal circadian rhythm works, the sun rising earlier and setting later interferes with the brain’s ability to send the correct chemicals through the body at the right time. This series of mix-ups creates problems with overall brain chemistry and triggers depression.
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD are very similar to the symptoms of “regular” depression. Your senior might feel more fatigued than usual and she might not be interested in the activities that normally engage her. She might be more irritable and withdrawn, and she might have changes in her appetite. As SAD becomes severe, some people even develop suicidal ideation.
Recognizing the Signs Is Important
SAD often starts out fairly mild in the late fall but can become very severe. It’s important to recognize the signs as soon after they start as possible so that you can help your senior to do something about them. If you wait until her depression is more severe, it may be more difficult to treat effectively.
Your Senior’s Doctor Can Help
Start out with your senior’s doctor. There may be supplements, like vitamin D, that can help some. In some cases, medication may be necessary. One treatment that seems to be very effective is to use light therapy for a set number of hours each day. The light is a special one that mimics the effects of sunlight to help reset the brain’s chemical balance. Your elderly family member might need a variety of treatments in order to get relief.
As your elderly family member deals with the effects of seasonal depression, she may find it helpful to have someone else there with her. Senior care providers can offer companionship and help her with anything that she finds difficult to manage on her own. Having senior care providers there with her can make a huge difference for your elderly family member.