Have you noticed that your aging mom or dad seems to do worse emotionally during the winter months? If your elderly loved one seems to go through some big mood changes and deeper sadness from late fall to early spring, they may be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Medical experts are not sure about the cause of SAD, but it may be related to changes in the brain linked to less sunlight. If you suspect your aging parent may have a seasonal depression, they need to see a doctor to feel better.
What Exactly is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder strikes people in the darker winter months, and scientists believe that it may be because the brain makes fewer amounts of serotonin, a hormone that helps to regulate human mood. Some people find they are simply moodier and more irritable in the winter months while others reach a full depressed state that includes lethargy, lack of focus, sadness, memory problems, weight loss or gain, hopelessness, guilt and even thoughts of suicide.
Why are Elderly Adults at Risk?
Because seniors are at a higher risk of developing depression anyhow, they are extremely vulnerable to SAD-related depression. Many family caregivers miss the symptoms of SAD because so many of them mimic other illnesses and chronic conditions that many seniors already struggle with. Elderly adults who battle health issues are extremely likely to develop SAD because they are often homebound and rely on family caregivers and elderly care providers to care for them. Weather conditions make it much harder for seniors to leave the house and engage in activities and light exposure that help with SAD.
How to Help an Elderly Loved One with SAD
If you suspect your elderly loved one has SAD, your first visit should be to the doctor to rule out any other medical conditions that may be presenting similar symptoms. Doctors recommend that elderly adults with SAD may need to take antidepressant medication to help balance out the hormones and chemicals in the brain.
Light exposure therapy is another treatment that has very positive results. Seniors rely on family caregivers and elderly care providers to get more exposure to natural light. While this can be a challenge in the winter months, there are many options. For example, elderly care providers can bundle up the elderly adult and take them for a relaxing ride in a warm car. Setting up an easy chair in front of a south or west-facing window and pulling the curtains back can also help. Phototherapy, or sitting in front of a special light machine, is also an option for bedridden seniors.
Seasonal affective disorder may seem too strange to believe, but medical research supports the fact that the human body needs sunlight and a person’s mood and mental state is closely linked to the seasons. Don’t be quick to dismiss sad or depressed feelings in your aging loved one in the winter months, because they just might be dealing with SAD.
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