While some welcome the changing leaves of fall and fresh snow of winter, others find themselves out of sorts. They may have difficulty waking in the morning, experience daytime fatigue, and feel a general sense of depression this time of year.
Others experience depression symptoms that impact their daily life. Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Symptoms typically begin in late fall and early winter, when temperatures drop and days are shorter, and can continue through spring.
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
For those with seasonal depression, it’s more than just feeling blue or lacking energy on cold winter days. SAD involves persistent, pervasive symptoms of depression.
- Feeling sad, angry, or easily irritable most of the day nearly every day
- Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent lack of energy
- Sleeping more than usual
- Intense carbohydrate cravings, which often cause weight gain
How many people are affected by SAD?
Experts estimate that SAD affects 10 million Americans or 3% of the population. An additional 10% of the population may have mild cases that do not require intervention.
The CDC reports that older adults are at an increased risk of depression, but depression is not a normal part of aging.
The SAD affects women four times more than men and there are significant geographic differences. People who live further north are more prone to SAD since winter comes earlier where they live and the daylight hours are considerably shorter compared to those who live further south.
At what point is it necessary to see a doctor?
If symptoms are mild and do not interfere with daily life there are many self-care steps you can take all year long to help reduce your risk. Regular exercise, healthy sleep habits, social interaction, and a healthy diet can go a long way to support your mood.
However, if you feel persistent feelings of despair or hopelessness, it’s time to visit your doctor or a mental health professional.
A doctor may recommend Vitamin D supplements, prescription medications, or other therapies. Some patients find that taking an antidepressant medication throughout the fall and winter months is effective.
Treatments for SAD
The good news is that there are a variety of effective treatments for SAD. In addition to the treatments above, many people have had success with professional counseling and/or lightbox therapy.
Lightboxes, or light therapy lamps, mimic outdoor light by emitting broad-spectrum ultraviolet light. Many people report they benefit greatly from sitting in front of their light therapy lamp for 30 minutes in the morning, especially if they are not able to spend much time outside.
You can find guidance on lightbox design, medication interactions, and an optimal treatment regimen from The Center for Environmental Therapeutics. Researchers from Columbia University and this nonprofit organization have partnered together to create a free Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire to help you determine the most effective time of day to use your lightbox.
Senior Living + Mental Health
Research has shown time and time again that residing within interactive senior living communities can boost physical and mental health. When a senior is surrounded by caring friends, neighbors, and relatives they are less likely to experience the negative health effects of stress, loneliness, and seasonal depression.
When the cold weather hits it can be difficult to get out to see friends and family or participate in the things that bring you joy. When you are part of a senior living community, friends, activities, and opportunities for movement are all under a single roof. There’s no need to drive in snow or ice, get out after dark, or shovel a sidewalk.
Both independent living and assisted living communities can open the door to a whole host of benefits. You’ll find programs and services designed to give you a maintenance-free lifestyle, as well as enrichment opportunities that allow you to connect with others. From restaurant-style dining and housekeeper services to fun outings and volunteer opportunities, there’s something for everyone.
Interested in learning more about Independent Senior Living? Contact us to schedule a tour or ask any questions you may have.