Many elderly seniors often feel like staying in bed a little longer as they get older, especially as the winter months approach. However, if they or their caregiver believe they are experiencing more serious signs such as the blues, they may be struggling with winter depression. Winter depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can hit people of all ages, although it can be especially devastating to seniors who are already struggling with their health.
Many people joke about having the winter blues, but for many people the symptoms are real and no laughing matter. The days are shorter and many seniors get out of synch with their regular daily hours. Although scientists do not know exactly what causes the increase in depression during the winter months, they believe the shorter days and lack of sunshine are the main culprits.
Often the symptoms differ from person to person, so here are a few of the typical warning signs to watch out for:
- Feeling worthless, guilty, or having low self-esteem
- Crying a lot
- Feeling anxious and stressed
- Reduced sex drive
- Feeling more tired than usual and sleeping more
- Weight gain
- Lack of energy
- Increased appetite
- Craving unhealthy food.
Another strong reason to believe you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder is finding that you get these symptoms at the same time each year. This is a clear sign that your depression is related to the winter season. The symptoms may slowly begin during autumn, and get worse into winter when the daylight hours decrease. When spring arrives and you spend more time in the sun, the symptoms lessen or go away completely until fall.
What Causes Winter Depression?
It can also help to be aware of the various causes of seasonal depression, to help determine whether you’re at risk. There is no one cause, but there are known factors that contribute to the likelihood of developing it.
The levels of sunlight you get each day affect certain hormones in the brain. Some theories state that sunlight affects the hormones responsible for mood, sleep and appetite. This is why you may get some of the symptoms above when sunlight levels decrease.
Melatonin: Another factor related to light levels is the amount of melatonin our bodies produce. This is the hormone responsible for sleep, and more of it is produced when it’s dark, causing us to feel sleepy.
Serotonin: When you get less sunlight, your body produces less serotonin. Serotonin affects your mood, sleep and appetite – people who are depressed tend to have less of this hormone.
Circadian Rhythm: This is responsible for our “internal clock” that lets us know when we need to sleep and wake up each day. This can get disrupted when the levels of sunlight we get every day change.
As you can see, winter depression is a very real condition that can affect many different areas of your life. You really aren’t alone if you experience this kind of depression, and your doctor will be able to point out various treatment options. In the next post we will discuss ways you can overcome the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder.