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SAD Seasonal affective disorder in seniors, the winter blues and blahs

As we head into winter, things like hypothermia and slips and falls are likely at the top of a caregiver’s list of concerns for their loved one. But physical risks aren’t the only things that can endanger seniors. With daylight becoming scarce, and the isolating effects of having to stay indoors, seniors are also at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder or other forms of depression.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that cycles with the seasons, typically beginning in October/November, and eventually subsiding in March/April.  People suffering from SAD tend to show similar symptoms to other forms of depression, including loss of energy, lethargy, fatigue, and overeating.

These mental and hormonal changes are usually attributed to a deficiency of Vitamin D, and a decline in the amount of daylight during the winter months.

What can be done?

While SAD can be treated with antidepressant medication like other forms of depression, there are also a number of things you can do to help your loved one.

Light therapy is a common treatment to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD. It uses a piece of equipment called a lightbox (in essence, a fluorescent light), which gives off light that mimics natural sunlight. Have your loved one sit in front of the box for 30-45 minutes (preferably in the morning) to help make up for the lack of sunlight during winter.

Similarly, open up curtains and blinds to allow in as much sunlight as possible during the day. And if conditions permit, spend a little time outdoors. Even if it’s cloudy, the effects of sunlight can be beneficial to your senior.

Ensuring your loved one is getting ample Vitamin D can also help. Foods like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, milk, and fortified grains are all great sources of Vitamin D.

Lastly, try to reduce feelings of isolation by checking in with them more often, and keep them socially active. Even a short, daily phone call can make a big difference. And keeping them involved with hobbies and social activities will help keep them active and happy.

While the dark and cold winter months can make anyone feel glum, seniors are especially at risk. With a few precautions however, you can ensure they stay happy and healthy throughout the frigid times to come.

How do you keep your senior happy and active, even with all the complications that winter can bring? Let us know in the comments.

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