Combatting Seasonal Depression Among Seniors with Alzheimer's

Combatting Seasonal Depression Among Seniors with Alzheimer's

October 9, 2023

Depression in the Dreary Season

It’s not unusual to feel a bit blue in the winter. Being stuck inside for extended periods, with too little sunshine and too much dreary weather can make anyone feel sad. There’s a difference, though, between feeling sad and experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder). SAD is a type of depression that affects 10 to 20 percent of Americans, and can be a serious mental health concern, particularly for older people. Many people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are at higher risk for developing SAD because of the ongoing changes in their brain chemistries. 

What is SAD?

SAD is a specific type of depression that occurs or gets worse in the winter. Often, people who do not experience mental health symptoms during the rest of the year begin to feel significant changes in their mood and energy level during the winter. SAD happens when the days get shorter, giving us fewer hours of natural light. This can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm, leading to hormonal changes that impact mood. Winter is often a time of decreased social interaction, too, as cold, darkness, and bad weather keep people isolated. For older people, who are already at risk of depression, loneliness, and feelings of isolation, SAD can have a long-lasting impact. Often, seniors do not get the care they need because they see their symptoms as a natural sign of aging. Those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia often cannot recognize their own symptoms of depression, so caregivers need to pay attention for signs of SAD in winter. 

Symptoms of SAD

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder resemble those of other depressive disorders, with the difference being the season during which they occur. Common signs of SAD include: 

  • Loss of energy, fatigue
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating, brain fog
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in social activities

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, you should report any symptom you suspect might be depression. Contact your loved one’s doctor if you notice increased anxiety, unusual irritability, changes in appetite or sleeping habits, lack of energy and motivation, feelings of helplessness, or lack of personal care. As a caregiver, you are probably attuned to your loved one’s mood, appetite and energy level, so you will be able to report when things change. It can be difficult when these symptoms overlap with Alzheimer’s disease to determine what’s really going on, which is why it’s so important to seek professional medical care. The doctor may want to prescribe medication or some type of therapy, but there are also steps you can take at home to help. 

Treating SAD at Home

At home treatment of seasonal affective disorder is the same, regardless of age or condition. It centers on good self-care and replacing the light that has been lost due to the change of season. Light therapy is a popular way to treat SAD, because it works quickly. Also called phototherapy, this practice involved artificial light that mimics natural light. By sitting in front of a light box for 30 to 45 minutes each day, you can help offset the lack of sunlight available during the winter. Other treatment measures include: 

  • Make time to go outside, even it’s just for a daily walk
  • Eat nutritious diet with plenty of bright colored fruits and vegetables, and foods full of vitamin D
  • Limit sugar and alcohol
  • Exercise regularly, aiming for 30 minutes, at least three times a week
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Stay active, plan indoor activities and remain socially engaged
  • Get plenty of sleep during the winter months
  • Manage stress through mindfulness, yoga, and meditation
  • Socialize, even when it seems daunting

If you are caring for someone you know is prone to SAD, begin putting precautions in place before the winter arrives. Stock up on supplies, work on getting the diet on track, plan fun activities, and consider an emotional support pet! You can also call for an assessment to determine whether the older person is having all of his or her needs managed at home. If not, consider hiring home care, to help you take better job of your loved one with Alzheimer’s. 

Contact BrightStar For Excellence in Home Care

If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease and needs help, partner with an agency with a reputation for high standards and excellence in caregiving. At BrightStar Care® of Chico, we offer a wide range of home care and medical staffing services, customized to meet our clients’ unique needs. We strive to provide high-quality, compassionate care and unparalleled support for the local healthcare system, working to strengthen the community and make our clients’ best lives possible. From our caregivers to our office team and staff, we’re all committed to providing our customers with the care and support they need and deserve. We’ve earned a reputation for excellence, and we’ve been recognized with some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, both as part of a national home care brand and as a local company. We are proud to offer Home Care and Support for the elderly, including 24 hour in-home care, as well as support for residents of independent and assisted living communities, at all levels of senior care. Additionally, we provide Medical Staffing and Physical Therapy for pediatric adult, and geriatric patients, Home Child Care, Sitter, and Nanny Services for children and Support for New Mothers. We also support Veterans and those with special needs, providing transportation for disabled drivers and helping to monitor seniors for out of town family members. To learn more about the extensive services we offer and how we can be there for you and your loved ones, call us at (530) 767-3805 or contact us through our website.