What Caregivers Should Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and laughter, but for some, they are just the beginning of a downward spiral into sadness and depression. We’ve all heard the term “winter blues.” For some, this could be a temporary issue, while others may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As a caregiver, you’ll need to know about SAD and depression in seniors. We are also going to share some tips for keeping your patients’ spirits up during this time and help the holidays once again be a happy time.  

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. It usually starts during the late fall and early winter, lessening or going away altogether during the spring and summer. The shorter daylight hours means little or no sun exposure, which causes the brain to create too much melatonin, a hormone used to regulate sleep, which leads to SAD. 

Treatments for SAD

SAD is considered a type of major depression and should be treated by a health professional. If left untreated, it could lead to severe depression and other health issues. 

  • Light therapy or phytotherapy, uses bright light exposure during the day, especially in the morning hours, that simulates natural light exposure. 
  • Vitamin D is believed to help manage the symptoms of SAD, and most people get it from their diet. Sunlight is another way to increase vitamin D. However; the winter months are lacking. 
  • Speaking with a therapist can give people the tools they need to deal with stress and ways to change behaviors that can have a negative impact. 

What can you, the caregiver, do?

As a caregiver, there are ways to boost the mood in the home and help lift your patients’ spirits.  By getting involved and making some minor changes, you can help lessen the effects of SAD.  

  • Make the home “sunnier” by opening the curtains on sunny days and turning on extra lights when it’s drearier. 
  • Keep the music playing. Music is known to calm anxiety and improve a person’s mood. According to Harvard Medical School, most everyone has a connection to music, which can bring about memories of happy times. 
  • Keep a social calendar. Schedule get-togethers or outings with your patients’ friends while the sun is up.  It’s not only helpful to spend time with those you love but sitting outside in the sunshine is a great way to boost the vitamin D we spoke of earlier. 

It is of utmost importance for caregivers to know if your patient is likely to be affected and the risk factors for SAD. If you notice your patient suffering with the symptoms of SAD, talk to your patient and their family about setting an appointment with the family doctor. Remember, the sooner treatment is sought, the better for your patient. 

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