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Feb 20 / Cheryl Deep

Overcoming the Season of Sadness

Keep the Blues at Bay: Overcoming the Season of Sadness
by Cheryl Deep

Temperatures are plunging, snow is falling, sidewalks are slippery, it’s dark by 5:30 p.m., and all you want to do is sleep. Northern winters, with their lack of sunshine, can trigger seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a case of the blues that can last until spring. Many Crittenton Home Care patients have asked what they can do about SAD. Fortunately, we’ve partnered with the experts in our medical offices to answer your questions.

“Older adults are especially vulnerable,” said Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, the director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University. “They are more sensitive to cold temperatures and at risk for falling, so they tend to stay inside in the winter.” With limited physical activity and exposure to sunshine, SAD can strike.

According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD is likely caused by limited amounts of sunlight, lower body temperature, and hormonal changes.

Symptoms of SAD include
•Social withdrawal
•Decreased energy and concentration
•Slow movement
•Carbohydrate cravings
•Excessive sleepiness
•Decreased interest in activities
•Increased appetite.

Untreated, SAD can develop into other forms of depression.

From SAD to Happy

If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from SAD, there are several good treatment options available including light therapy, antidepressants and counseling. When used properly, light therapy has been proven to be highly effective, a specially designed fluorescent lamp gives off light similar to natural sunlight. Light therapy can help decrease the amount of melatonin in a person’s body, and help to regulate serotonin and epinephrine. Having an imbalance of these chemicals can increase the symptoms of depression.

In addition to light therapy, Dr. Lichtenberg suggests older adults set a goal to stay active throughout the winter. While outdoor activities during daytime are the best, even inside physical activity can help keep the blues at bay. “If older adults are careful and use railings, salt their walks and stairs, dress warmly, and walk with a friend, they are often able to be outside for a short period on clear winter days,” Dr. Lichtenberg said.

For inside activities, he recommends chair exercises and avoiding watching too much television. “Television is an activity that will not keep your brain active and reduces physical activity,” he said. “I’d much rather have an older adult go to the senior center, participate in a work-out, and spend social time with friends. Those are much better ways to beat the blues.” Seniors can also ask for health aides to come into the home for both companionship or to help with in-home exercise.

Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology partners with Crittenton Hospital to provide information for older adults. For more information, visit the Wayne State Family Medicine Program at Crittenton Hospital Medical Center or call 248-656-6757. To learn more about healthy aging visit Crittenton.


Leave a comment
  1. Cheryl Deep / Feb 21 2013

    I appreciate the comment, Francis, and the motivation to all seniors to get out in the sunshine whenever possible.

  2. Frances Shani Parker / Feb 21 2013

    Cheryl, thanks for sharing this important information. I know seniors who have blocked out going to senior centers during winer months because it “might snow any day.” Relatives and friends of seniors should be especially observant during winter months and help them stay active indoors and outdoors as Dr. Lichtenberg suggests. I always praise the seniors who keep coming. Several are over 80 years old and have health challenges such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer in remission, etc., but they still make the effort to invest in good health habits. I tell them they are my role models!

  3. Carrie Leach / Feb 21 2013

    Thanks for sharing this Cheryl, I think this affects people more than they know. Addressing mental health issues at any age is of great importance. Great topic!

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