You already know that depression is far more common among older adults than among younger people. But everyone is at risk for what we used to call “cabin fever” or the winter blues, and it is real. If you or someone you know goes through a period of feeling down after winter has over-stayed its welcome – but recover in the spring – it may be seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you are a caregiver to an older person who seems to be out of sorts this time of year, there is help.
Most experts suggest that SAD is a simply result of too little natural sunlight, but the symptoms may vary. Common signs of SAD include:
1. sleeping longer, yet still feeling tired during the day
2. eating or craving more, especially for foods high in carbohydrates
3. weight gain due to increased food consumption
4. less enthusiasm for what used to be a significant interest or activity
5. generally bad temper or crabbiness
The good news is that the symptoms are not just an inevitable part of the season. Those who suffer from the condition are not resigned to simply wait until spring. There is some consensus that the best treatment is to offer what is most lacking in winter – light. Special lights that offer the broadest spectrum can help. Experts suggest that the light be available early in the day either by sitting in front of what they call “bright lights” or by slowly turning up a light in the morning to simulate an earlier rising sun.
Some people who suffer from the condition find that talk therapy similarly used in treating depression can help to limit the effects of SAD. Exercise is a way to release endorphins and also help re-energize one’s body. If you are a caregiver to an older adult suffering from SAD, however, be sure that a doctor approves of any new exercise regimen.
Some suggest that anti-depressants can be a help for more serious cases of SAD, but it is important to stick with the medication once started. Some people may begin to feel better, and sensing that their condition is remedied may go off their medication. This only serves to allow the SAD to settle back in.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.