Senior Adults and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that can affect people during certain times of the year. The most common time for SAD to occur is in the winter when there is less sunlight. Some people may experience a depressive episode, feel more tired than usual, have problems with concentration, or crave foods high in carbohydrates. Although the cause of SAD is not fully understood, it is believed to be related to the decrease in daylight hours during winter months. If you think you may be experiencing SAD, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

This article particularly looks at Seasonal Affective Disorder and its impact on seniors. This includes a consideration of suspected causes of SAD, signs of the condition, and how to reduce the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Keep in mind that some seniors with SAD have a mild form of the disorder that comes and goes over time. Others have a more severe form that can even last throughout the year rather than just during the wintertime months.

Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Order

In most cases involving seniors diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, symptoms appear during late fall or early winter. For most seniors, these symptoms dissipate during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Some seniors have the opposite pattern of symptoms. In other words, they experience symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder that start to exhibit in spring or summer. As mentioned a moment ago, there are also some isolated cases in which seniors might battle Seasonal Affective Disorder the year around. No matter the specific season of onset, symptoms may start mild and become more severe for a senior as the season progresses.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Feeling listless most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling sad or down most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Having problems with sleeping too much
  • Experiencing carbohydrate cravings
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live

Causes of Senior Affective Disorder Among Seniors

As was explained previously in this article, the specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play when it comes to Seasonal Affective Order among seniors (and others) include:

  • Disruption of the circadian rhythm. The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm. This can result in the symptoms outlined a moment ago, including feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical or neurotransmitter that affects mood, might play a role in Seasonal Affective Disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder and the symptoms previously discussed. It can result in a senior with Seasonal Affective Disorder experiencing depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin. Melatonin plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

Risk Factors for Seasonal Affective Disorder Among Seniors

There are several primary risk factors for Seasonal Affective Disorder among seniors. Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed more frequently in women than in men. Seasonal Affective Disorder does often occur among younger adults than in older individuals.

Factors that may increase the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder among seniors (and others) include:

  • Family history. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder may be more likely to have blood relatives with Seasonal Affective Disorder or another form of depression.
  • Having major depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
  • Living far from the equator. Seasonal Affective Disorder appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
  • Low level of vitamin D. Some vitamin D is produced in the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D can help to boost serotonin activity. Less sunlight and insufficient vitamin D from foods and other sources may result in low levels of vitamin D in the body.

Complications of Seasonal Affective Disorder Among Seniors

Seniors must take the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder can worsen and lead to problems if it’s not treated. Potential complications of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior

Prevention of Seasonal Affective Disorder

There’s no known way to prevent the development or occurrence of Seasonal Affective Disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. With that said, if you take steps early to manage symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can prevent those symptoms from getting worse over time.

Being proactive means, you can head off serious mood, appetite, and energy changes. Ultimately, as you come to predict the time of the year in which these symptoms may start, you can plan to undertake proactive steps to minimize symptoms of the condition. Proactive treatment can help prevent complications, especially if Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.

Some seniors find it helpful to begin treatment before symptoms normally start in the fall or winter. They also seem to find they can mitigate symptoms if they continue treatment past the time symptoms normally go away when sunnier days return.

In conclusion, because of the serious consequences of Seasonal Affective Disorder, you should seek medical assistance promptly if you think you may be laboring under this condition. You should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician proactively.