How V!VA Retirement Communities Helps Seniors Cope with SAD
Published on November 6, 2020
Winter-onset Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically begins in late October/early November and can last until the end of March or April. While young adult women are predominantly likely to be diagnosed with winter-onset SAD, it can also have a devastating impact on men of the same age group and seniors.
SAD in seniors is so much more than just feeling the winter blues because it’s cold outside. The shorter daylight hours combined with frigid temperatures and limited social interactions can all have a detrimental impact on the mental health of seniors. For many seniors, COVID-19 restrictions have only added to these challenges. That loneliness is only exacerbated by the onset of winter, which forces seniors to forgo a lot of their regular outdoor activities and time with family and friends as it is.
Unfortunately, SAD is grossly underdiagnosed in many seniors, despite the fact that it shares a lot of the same symptoms with standard depression. Anxiety, loss of interest in beloved activities, loss of appetite, increased appetite, as well as noticeable weight loss or gain are all common signs that someone may be suffering from SAD. At V!VA Retirement Communities, we’re working hard to ensure the mental health and well-being of all of our Community Members remains a priority during this difficult time.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Although each person’s experience is entirely unique, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) generally occurs at the same time every year. Some people experience it in the winter as the temperature drops, while others experience it in the spring and summer.
There are a number of factors that can impact the severity with which each person might experience this phenomenon. Women are more likely to suffer from SAD than men. Like regular depression, SAD can drain all of your energy and make you feel perpetually fatigued. It affects your mood and emotions, making you feel uncontrollably irritable and anxious the majority of the time for seemingly no reason. Some people also report feeling like they’re in a haze or have severe brain fog.
What Causes Seasonal Depression in Seniors?
One of the main physiological causes of seasonal depression in seniors is lack of sufficient vitamin D which is typically provided by the sun in the summer months. Vitamin D is nicknamed “the sunshine vitamin” because your skin produces it in response to direct contact with sunlight. When that all-important sunlight is lacking in nature, it can also feel like it’s lacking from our lives. Vitamin D deficiency is a serious health problem for seniors because it stimulates calcium absorption in the body. Without sufficient vitamin D in the body, seniors’ bones can increasingly become brittle, which leads to osteoporosis.
Other causes of seasonal depression in seniors include lack of sleep and lower serotonin levels. Disrupted or lack of sleep is common during seasonal transitions, particularly where daylight savings time changes are concerned. Adding an extra hour of sunlight in winter doesn’t actually yield positive mental or physical health results like scientists originally thought. In fact, all it does is it disrupts our natural sleeping patterns, making it increasingly difficult to adjust to the new time change throughout the year. This is particularly difficult for seniors who spend most of their time indoors anyway and don’t get as much sun exposure as younger adults.
A lack of sunlight in the winter can also decrease serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates our moods. Reduced serotonin levels can cause a severe chemical imbalance in the brain, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
What Are Some Signs of SAD in Seniors?
The core reason SAD is usually underdiagnosed in seniors is that it shares a lot of the same symptoms and characteristics as other mental and physical illnesses. As mentioned, SAD can have a drastic impact on a person’s appetite. Carb cravings can go through the roof, causing severe weight gain. Or, it could go in the other direction where people feel less inclined to eat and end up losing a great deal of weight.
SAD can also impact an older adult’s mental state, increasing their anxiety, blood pressure, and making them feel increasingly fatigued for no reason. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate number of cases in senior communities, tensions amongst the aging population are certainly on the rise.
Seniors may also exhibit feelings of restlessness, indecisiveness, pessimism, trouble concentrating, feelings of emptiness, severe guilt, inexplicable irritability, and loss of interest in activities they once loved.
How to Help Seniors in Retirement Communities Overcome SAD
Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources and tools to help seniors in retirement communities overcome their winter-onset SAD. At V!VA Retirement Communities, we offer a wide range of excellent recreational activities to help our Community Members stay active and keep their spirits up. From a variety of skills-based classes including cooking, baking, dance, and sewing, as well as V!VAfit, which focuses on personalized core components of fitness (cardio, balance, flexibility, and strength), we’re committed to boosting the well-being of our community members.
The Right Diet and Exercise Regime Makes All the Difference
Vitamin D is one main component lacking for seniors and others who suffer from SAD during the winter months. Although sunlight is increasingly scarce in the winter, there are other ways of getting your daily dose of the sunshine vitamin.
The following foods contain healthy doses of vitamin D:
Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, salmon)
Any food fortified with vitamin D (some orange and fruit juices, breakfast cereals, etc.)
Maintaining a healthy balanced diet and exercise regime is a great way to increase your vitamin D intake and release endorphins throughout your body. Endorphins are a natural physiological chemical that can uplift your mood and make you feel more energized.
At V!VA Retirement Communities, the health and well-being of our senior Community Members is our top priority. We offer V!VAlicious healthy personalized dining options that are available to order whenever you’re ready to eat! Plus, our state-of-the-art V!VAfit facilities and holistic lifestyle programs are designed to get you moving and feeling your best. Contact us today to learn more.