Seasonal health disorder, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that affects approximately 5% of adults in the United States. Seemingly triggered by a change in seasons, the depressive episodes often occur at the same time each year. Many people who are affected by SAD start to feel down during the winter months, after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season come to an end and the succession of cold and gloomy days that follow seems endless. Then, with the advent of springtime and the prospect of many warm and sunny days ahead, many SAD sufferers find that their mood significantly improves.
Within the general medical community, the precise causes of seasonal health disorder are not yet fully understood. Some experts believe it may be related to a reduction in sunlight exposure, which many people experience during the winter months when the sun sets early and the days are short. In response to sunlight, the body’s nerve cells normally produce serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer and the main hormone that promotes feelings of happiness and well-being. As such, low levels of serotonin can lead to mood disorders.
While people of all ages can be affected by seasonal health disorder, older adults are especially at risk. Why? In the winter, many seniors tend to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid the cold weather and reduce the risk of slipping on icy pavement. As a result, they are often isolated and have minimal social interactions during that time. That’s one reason why family support is so important.
Recognizing the Signs of Seasonal Health Disorder
The symptoms of seasonal health disorder usually become apparent right after holidays. Are you feeling a bit out of sorts? Does a senior in your life seem to be a little off? It could be the winter blues. Or, it could be something more. Here are some common signs of SAD:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Oversleeping or insomnia
- Low energy levels
- Physical weakness
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- High Anxiety
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight gain or loss
These symptoms should be brought to the attention of a medical professional, who can determine whether the cause is just a post-holiday letdown or something more serious, such as SAD.
How to Avoid or Overcome Seasonal Health Disorder
There are some ways to help prevent seasonal health disorder or manage its effects, such as:
- Committing to a minimum of 30 minutes of daily exercise, such as walking on a treadmill, performing chair yoga, or swimming in an indoor pool
- Consuming a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, and light on sweets and sugary sodas
- Limiting consumption of alcoholic beverages to one or two drinks per week (or avoiding alcohol altogether)
- Spending time with family members and friends on a regular basis
Additionally, some mental health professionals recommend light therapy for SAD, which involves sitting in front of a device that generates a bright light similar to natural sunlight that is not found in most households. Exposure to the light emitted by a light therapy box can alter the body’s circadian rhythms and suppress its natural production of melatonin. Both effects can spur biochemical changes in the brain that improve alertness and decrease the symptoms of seasonal health disorder.
If you would like to explore light therapy, talk with a medical provider who can determine whether it is a good option for you or your elderly loved one.
DispatchHealth Provides At-Home Care for Seniors
If you, an elderly family member, or another older adult in your life needs medical attention for a non-life-threatening health issue, DispatchHealth can help. We understand that many seniors have difficulty leaving home due to mobility issues—or they simply may not feel up to it due to the effects of seasonal health disorder. Our mobile care teams proudly provide affordable, in-home medical care for a variety of non-emergency illnesses and injuries, such as colds and flu. We offer many of the same services as a hospital emergency room but at a fraction of the cost.
To request in-home care from DispatchHealth, you can contact us via telephone or through our website. We will dispatch a fully equipped and experienced team of medical professionals to your home right away. They’ll be at your door in just a few hours!
For life-threatening and time-sensitive injuries and illnesses, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
DispatchHealth shouldn’t be used in a life-threatening emergency and doesn’t replace a primary care provider.
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
Sources referenced in this article: