Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, is a type of depression triggered by changes in the seasons. It usually affects people in the late fall, but it can occur any time of the year.
The two kinds of SAD include:
Either kind of seasonal depression has to be recognized so those dealing with symptoms can get the right support.
There are several common symptoms of seasonal depression you can look for in seniors and people of all ages. The most common symptoms include:
While these symptoms do overlap with some other mental health challenges, it's important not to brush them aside. They could be a sign that someone is dealing with SAD.
The leading cause of seasonal depression (winter depression) is suspected to be the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months. Changes in your circadian rhythm may also occur due to changes in the seasons.
Another possible cause of seasonal depression could be a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a part in maintaining mood. With less sunlight, serotonin may drop.
Finally, when the level of sunlight you experience each day changes, your body's melatonin levels may be altered. Melatonin may impact your sleep patterns and affect your risk of developing SAD.
Johns Hopkins has found that the risk of seasonal depression increases with age, and it affects more women than men.
Seniors who live in locations with less sunlight or with certain medical conditions may also be at an increased risk of developing SAD.
Other risk factors for SAD may include:
If any of these things are true and you or an elderly loved one are showing symptoms of SAD, it's time to look into getting a diagnosis.
The most common way to get a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder is by seeing a mental health professional for a mental health exam. A psychiatrist or other professional will check for signs of this and other types of mood disorders as well as other medical issues that may be leading to symptoms.
Common tests include lab tests to check your complete blood count (CBC), a physical examination to identify underlying health issues and a psychological evaluation.
The good news about getting a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis is that there are treatments that can help manage it. There are five main treatments to look into.
Light therapy is one treatment that may work well for those with SAD. With a special lamp that simulates sunlight, the brain is tricked into releasing serotonin and boosting your mood. This kind of lamp can also help readjust your circadian rhythm, improving your sleep-wake cycle.
Another option may be to take medications for depression. These may be used alone or in combination with other therapies, like light therapy. Some common selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include:
These and other medications may be helpful in reducing your symptoms.
If your complete blood count (CBC) or other blood tests show that vitamin D levels are low in your body, taking a supplement may help improve symptoms of seasonal depression.
Your body should naturally make vitamin D3, also called cholecalciferol, but if it's too low, you may want to increase your intake. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D) is 800 UI/day for those 70 and older.
Getting more sunlight encourages your body to make its own vitamin D, which could help improve your symptoms. Exercising outside may also boost serotonin or dopamine levels, improving your mood.
At Autumn View Gardens, we know the importance of nurturing a positive environment and recognizing symptoms of seasonal depression. Seasonal depression may be common in seniors, but with the help of the community, it's possible to overcome it and enjoy every season of life to its fullest.
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