Millions of people around the world suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The Mayo Clinic describes the condition as a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, usually during fall and winter, and which makes people feel moody and lethargic. SAD easily affects elderly people, as they are often housebound through either disability or age. In these cases, if the elderly live in homes that have windows that don’t let in much light, the condition can occur at any time of the year.
It is important that relatives and friends are aware of SAD in the elderly; signs to look for can include sleeping a lot and eating too much or too little. It’s a good idea to discuss the symptoms with affected people so that they realize why they are feeling low and/or experiencing eating patterns that are different to their usual habits. Consult a medical professional to make sure that the symptoms being displayed are a result of SAD.
The best treatment for SAD is light. Research has shown that medication only treats the symptoms of SAD but not the cause. If possible, make sure that there is a sunny, sheltered place to retreat to in bad weather. If that is not feasible, do some research and buy a certified SAD lamp. Ensure that the lamp is easily accessible, and that the person understands why it needs to be used.
Other factors to take into account that may help elderly people who are suffering from SAD:
- Think appearance — perhaps organize a trip to the hairdresser/barber for a haircut, or a visit to the dentist to have teeth professionally cleaned. It could be that help is needed with clothes washing and drying. Older people who believe that they look good and who feel neat and tidy are often far more cheerful than those who feel grubby and unkempt.
- Think big — elderly people often have fond memories of things that interested them in the past or even about activities that they did the previous year. Try to introduce those interests and activities into their lives. If physically able, many older folk will enjoy a visit to the local leisure centre to join in with swimming for the elderly.
- Think comfort — a comfortable bed and armchair will help elderly people to sleep and relax properly. Something as simple as a new mattress or support cushions for the back or neck can work wonders. Organize an outing for a massage to alleviate pain and stress in the muscles. Very importantly, make sure that home heating is set at the right temperature. All these things add to physical comfort and help maintain mental health.
- Think mobility aids — mobility aids, such as a walking stick or walker, can vastly improve older people’s lifestyles and allow more independence and exercise.
If left untreated, SAD can have a devastating effect on the elderly. This medically recognized disorder, with a little thought, can be treated in a natural way and this will make a remarkable difference to the lives of your older loved ones.
The Nurses at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder home care serves in the Orlando area, 407-788-9393.
Hank Charpentier, MBA, MA, Certified Senior Adviser