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Health and Wellness: Shedding light on SAD in older adults

By Sarah Hilton - | Oct 13, 2021


As the days get shorter, we look forward to the twinkling lights that will soon brighten our homes and neighborhoods. But for 5% of American adults, the darker mornings and evenings can mean the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that typically occurs during fall and winter. Older adults may also experience vitamin D deficiency during these darker seasons, and that, combined with SAD, can have damaging effects.

Perhaps you or someone you know has been struggling with SAD. Read on to learn what seasonal affective disorder is, how it affects seniors and how to manage it. With knowledge and proactive steps, you can keep the sunshine in your life, even when it’s dark outside.

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons,” the Mayo Clinic reports. “SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.”

On top of the low energy and persistent moodiness that come on with the change in the seasons, here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate you are experiencing SAD:

  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A feeling of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

How do vitamin D deficiency and SAD affect seniors?

Did you know that older people “have more difficulty converting and absorbing vitamin D from foods”? They are also “less efficient at using sunlight to produce vitamin D,” said Anne-Marie Botek, contributing writer at http://agingcare.com.

As the days get shorter and the sun is at a lower angle in the sky, it’s more difficult for everyone to get the vitamin D they need. When seniors have limited mobility and have a harder time getting outside, that adds another layer of difficulty. And finally, certain medications — like prednisone, an anti-inflammatory — can limit one’s ability to metabolize vitamin D.

Since vitamin D is crucial for physical and mental health, having difficulty creating or metabolizing it is a problem.

“While a lack of Vitamin D can negatively affect anyone, it can be especially harmful to seniors,” said Cynthia Oliva, RN, BSN, director of nursing at Cedar Crest Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Sunnyvale, California. “Vitamin D deficiency can manifest itself as muscle and bone pain, fatigue and feeling down. On top of that, older people who don’t get enough vitamin D have a heightened risk of developing osteoporosis, which can contribute to broken bones.”

How do you manage SAD in seniors?

SAD and Vitamin D deficiency can be serious in seniors, but there are proactive steps you can take to help manage and prevent these conditions. Here are four things you can do:

  1. Stay connected. Go to the park, volunteer, get a pet fish, join a club, watch funny shows and call your loved ones! Actions like these can give you a great boost.
  2. Increase light exposure. Open window coverings and spend your time in the brightest room in the house. Try to get outside every day, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes to check the mail. You might even consider checking with your doctor to see if light therapy might be a good option for you: A light therapy box can make it easier to get that mood-boosting light.
  3. Get regular physical activity. “Regular exercise and other types of physical activity reduce overall stress and anxiety, which helps to reduce SAD symptoms,” according to http://dailycaring.com. “Physical activity also helps tire the body, which improves sleep quality and duration.” Follow along with easy yoga routines on YouTube, do lunges while you’re reheating leftovers in the microwave or lift weights while you’re watching TV.
  4. Seek assistance. If you have concerns that you or a loved one is experiencing seasonal depression, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor. They will be able to help properly diagnose the problem and put you in touch with helpful resources.

Seasonal affective disorder doesn’t have to take the sunshine out of your life. When you know what it is, how it affects seniors and how to manage it, you can keep your spirits up all winter long.

Sarah Hilton, RN, has 20 years of healthcare experience and serves as Stage Marketing’s director of advisory services.


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