As we enter the depths of winter, it’s easy – and natural – to feel a little down. The days are quick and cold, and we all can’t wait for that first whisper of warmth and a return to life. While you wait, it doesn’t hurt to sleep in a little more often, indulge in the favorite meal a little more frequently, and maybe savor another episode of that new show. You might notice these habits in your loved ones, too – and it’s easy to chalk it up to the same February Funk.
But the elderly are especially susceptible to something more sinister than the winter blahs. Seasonal Affect Disorder tends to have many of the same symptoms and apparent causes – cold weather and lack of social activities and interactions. It quickly becomes more than just a desire to stay indoors and enjoy one too many pints of ice cream – SAD, as it’s aptly called, is a recognized form of depression and comes with all the symptoms of a serious mental disorder. So how can you tell when your loved one’s just missing warmer weather and when you should mention something to your doctor?
Timing Is Key
SAD appears to be linked directly to the amount of sunlight our bodies enjoy each day. Those shorter days (and the time changes associated with them) can disrupt circadian rhythms, natural serotonin, melatonin, and Vitamin D levels in the body due to decreased sunlight. Predictably, when the days begin to grow shorter, cases of SAD rise. For us, the usual winter blues kick in around January, when the festivities of the holidays are over and there’s not much to look forward to. For those suffering from SAD, though symptoms can appear much earlier in the year when we’re enjoying the colors of fall. Symptoms include1:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
If your loved one is having difficulty even being cheered up or engaged by things you know they enjoy year-round, they may be struggling with SAD.
SAD has effects which, like depression, may not necessarily be obvious just from observation. Like so much of caring for a loved one, communication is key. In your daily conversations, explicitly ask how they’re doing and listen. They may be experiencing SAD if they bring up2:
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Establishing open lines of communication as well as trust is critical to helping your loved one feel they can discuss these thoughts with you should they arise.
How to Treat SAD
Your physician is the only one who can prescribe a specific course of action for your loved one as well as diagnose SAD. They may advise serotonin or melatonin supplements until the end of the season, or even a form of light therapy to make up for the diminished sunlight. Happily, these treatments are affordable and easily administered, often involving no particular change in your loved one’s daily routine.
Despite the ease of treatment, SAD is a difficult disorder to pin down, especially when you, yourself, might be feeling understandably down due to the weather. An objective third party, such as a home caretaker, can help alert you to signs you may be missing. They also can provide much-needed socialization and distraction from the shortened days.
Having an in-home Care Professional is about so much more than simply taking care of your loved one’s physical needs. It’s about providing a warm presence and a reassuring friend for your family – and in these long, cold days of winter, there are few things more welcome than that. Contact us today about a Care Professional for your family.