The weather in Chicago has fooled us again! Last week, we suffered from the sweltering heat. For the past few days it has been like fall. Tomorrow, it will probably snow. Just as the weather can change on a dime, so can “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) ,” cause depression in a senior at any time of the year.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? At is a form of depression that affects seniors (and other people) at the same time of the year every year. My Father started experiencing the symptoms at it at about the same time he was diagnosed with dementia. He had been a “sun worshipper” all of his life and spent hours outside during the summer months reading books. Once the winter months would set in and he was unable to spend time outside, he would experience depression, loss of interest in activities he enjoyed, sleepiness, anxiety, a heavy feeling in his arms and legs, weight gain, and social withdrawal. The symptoms would manifest themselves at the same time of the year. While most people suffer from SAD during the onslaught of fall and winter, some people actually exhibit symptoms in the spring and summer! People who have SAD during those months experience some of the reverse symptoms meaning weight loss, loss of appetite, insomnia along with anxiety, irritability, and agitation. As a Certified Care Manager, it makes sense that I observe so many seniors who (like my Father) experience the disease in the fall/winter. Inclement weather may inhibit a senior’s ability to drive, walk, and attend the activities that make him/her the most happy.
What causes SAD? As with other forms of depression, the causes are unknown. It is suspected that age is a factor along with the an individual’s genetics. Changes in the brain chemical or neurotransmitter, Seratonin, are also though to trigger SAD. This brain chemical affects mood. A reduction in sunlight may cause a drop in Seratonin which increases depression. When the seasons change, the levels of Melatonin may change as well. Melatonin is a hormone that helps with sleeping patterns. SAD is also diagnosed more often in women, but men often experience much more serious symptoms. People who have clinical depression or bipolar depression seem to be prone to SAD. If a person lives far north or south of the equator, the decrease in sunlight during fall or winter may increase the occurrence of the disease.
If you see a person who exhibits the symptoms of SAD, please get him/her some help. As with other kinds of depression, people contemplate suicide, become withdrawn, and have trouble concentrating at school or work. Many times, substance abuse can complicate these issues further.
Where should you seek help? Your primary care physician is a great place to start. Since people may experience other physical issues along with depressive symptoms, the primary care physician can help rule certain problems out. Or you can seek the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional depending upon the person’s needs. Treatments can include light treatments, anti-depressants, and psychotherapy, or a combination of all three remedies.
For all of your senior living needs, please contact Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors.