seasonal depression in seniors

Seniors and Seasonal Depression: What You Should Know

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a common mental health condition that can be exacerbated in the darkness of winter months. It’s especially common in areas that have more intense winters like Maine, where the days become shorter and there are longer periods of darkness. Though seasonal depression can impact individuals of any age, older adults may be especially vulnerable. This is why it’s essential to understand seasonal depression in seniors and learn how you can counter the effects of SAD during the winter months.

Common Causes of Seasonal Depression in Seniors

Winter in Maine comes with shorter days. This means less sunlight than we’re used to in other seasons, which can impact the body in many unexpected ways:

Higher Melatonin Production – Your body may be producing too much of the hormone melatonin due to the long periods of darkness in winter. Sunlight during the day encourages your body to feel awake because your brain is producing less melatonin. In the winter, you may be experiencing the opposite effect, causing you to feel more tired and lethargic.

Sleep-Wake Cycle Changes – Your body’s internal clock (also called a circadian rhythm) responds to the changes in daylight, which can be thrown off during winter. This may leave you feeling groggy, tired or even disoriented.

Drop in Serotonin Levels – Serotonin is a chemical your brain produces that helps to regulate your mood. Reduced sunlight also leads your body to produce less serotonin, with a deficit commonly leading to loss of appetite, fuzzy memory, poor sleep, and even depression.

Vitamin D Deficiency – Because natural sunlight is one of the main sources of vitamin D, it’s common for seniors to become deficient during the winter months. Vitamin D plays an essential role in regulating energy and mood, so depressive symptoms may occur if a person is lacking vitamin D intake.

How to Identify Seasonal Depression in Seniors

Seniors who seem “down” during winter months could be suffering from seasonal depression. Some common signs can include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Lack of energy
  • Persisting feelings of sadness
  • Sleep cycle changes, such as oversleeping or insomnia
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Irritability
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Weight loss or gain

5 Tips for Alleviating Seasonal Depression

If you or a loved one is suffering from a bout of seasonal depression, there are a few easy ways to alleviate (and in some cases, even prevent) the onset of SAD.

Please note, it’s imperative to seek medical advice from your doctor if your symptoms are severe, particularly if your sleep or appetite have changed or you’re experiencing feelings of hopelessness.

1. Be Mindful of What You Eat

Your diet plays a huge role in your life, especially when it comes to symptoms of seasonal depression. Focus on a healthy diet packed with fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins while staying away from sweets and processed foods. Try to avoid alcohol as best you can, or limit your intake to 1-2 drinks per week. This will help you keep a strong mind and body!

2. Exercise Daily

Exercise is an easy way to improve your mood and help you feel better quickly, so it makes sense that working in a daily dose of endorphins (even if just 30 minutes!) will go a long way in the winter. Exercise outside whenever possible to  soak up as many rays as possible.

3. Take Advantage of Natural Light

Make spending time in natural daylight a priority, especially during the winter months when there are fewer hours of sun. Spend as much time as you can outside soaking up the sunshine and enjoy the positive impact it has on your mood! 

You can also try artificial light therapy using a light box. According to Harvard Health, these light boxes are said to relieve seasonal affective disorder just as well as natural light (and in some cases, even antidepressants). 

4. Regularly Spend Time with Loved Ones

Social interaction is essential for humans to live, and regularly spending time with friends and family who bring you joy is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress! Whether it’s grabbing lunch, exchanging emails, or a long afternoon phone call, you are sure to feel fulfilled afterwards.

5. Practice Self-Care

While self-care may commonly be associated with pampering or relaxation, it actually goes much deeper than that! Self-care is a general term that includes all the ways we can improve our health and boost our well-being. Making time each day to care for yourself, whatever that may mean to you, can make a big difference in staving off seasonal depression.

OceanView at Falmouth

OceanView at Falmouth is a bustling, active senior living community with beautiful homes that allow you to leave the burdens and stresses of homeownership behind. Instead, relish in peace of mind for the future!

Our tight-knit and caring community is a wonderful place to spend your golden years, whatever you may be looking for. We focus on providing residents with an enriched lifestyle, offering fun and exciting social opportunities, on-site wellness, fine dining, beautiful fitness facilities, and much more. To learn more about our community or schedule a tour, contact us at OceanView today!