Those first snowy blasts of winter are pounding against our windows, and it’s cold outside! Cold winter days and long winter nights are a combination that may lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in many people.
SAD is a depression that is onset by seasonal changes during fall and winter. And although the basic cause is not well known, it is suspected that the dramatic change in light decreases our body’s ability to create melatonin and serotonin. This chemical change may lead to winter-onset depression with some of the following symptoms:
- Change in appetite
- Restlessness and irritability
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of energy
- Generalized anxiety
Other symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, oversleeping, headache, or a sense of hopelessness.
As family caregivers, we can help our aging parents cope with seasonal depression by knowing the symptoms and prevention methods. SAD isn’t “cabin fever” or the “winter blues” and it’s important to know that there are ways to prevent or minimize the impact the seasonal depression, through activities such as:
- Use of light therapy or phototherapy with SAD light boxes
- Attention to healthy diet
- Increase activity levels with light exercise such as walking; even a treadmill in the home
- Consider yoga for its deep breathing benefits and stress management
- Get plenty of fresh air with brisk walks outdoors, even if just a few minutes each day
Also, remember that social isolation can increase the season’s sense of loneliness, which can be accentuated with the holiday season. Remember to include family and friends in weekend or evening gatherings.
Prior to seasonal changes, contact your family physician to discuss symptoms and treatment plans for you or your loved one.