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Executive Director Amy Feather and mother

Seasonal Depression as a Caregiver

As a caregiver, you are familiar with the many challenges there are to caring for a senior loved one. 

They will depend on you for emotional, mental, and physical support. It can be difficult to meet the many needs of another person, especially when they require so much assistance.  

Now imagine tossing depression into the mix. 

Your job as their caregiver will likely get more complex if you get hit with seasonal affective depression (SAD). If your senior develops SAD, their mental health will become more challenging to manage. 

While SAD can occur during the summer months, it is more common in the winter. When it becomes cold, dark, and gloomy, you should focus on you and your loved one’s health to fight seasonal depression. 

Let’s explore seasonal depression, the causes and symptoms, and how caregivers and loved ones can get help promptly. 

What is Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal depression is more than just your winter blues. 

With the winter blues, you may have off days and bouts of sadness, but you don’t stay down for very long. 

SAD is often compared to major depressive disorder, as they share many of the same symptoms. However, one key difference is that the change in seasons triggers SAD. 

While more common throughout the fall and winter months, there are some cases of SAD causing summer depression in the spring and early summer months. Regardless of the season, you must take steps to improve your mood. 

If you are diagnosed with SAD, don’t feel alone. Each year, there are approximately 11 million people in the world diagnosed with this mood disorder. 

Fortunately, there are treatments to help you or your loved one feel more like yourself until the season changes. 

Symptoms of SAD

The symptoms of SAD are similar to major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. This is why it is essential to reach out to a mental health professional to determine what is causing your symptoms.

Not every person will experience all symptoms listed below. However, it’s common to feel some of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or depressed, most days
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feeling agitated
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts

Specific to Summer Pattern Seasonal Depression

  • Less appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Weight Loss
  • Anxiety 
  • Restlessness
  • Episodes of violent behavior 

What causes SAD?

Certain risk factors make someone more likely to be diagnosed with SAD. 

For instance, if you are a woman, young adult, or already have another mood disorder, you may be more prone to seasonal affective disorder. Being a caregiver is tough and if you’re already struggling, seasonal depression will only make it harder to care for your loved one.

There is no exact cause of SAD, but researchers have developed multiple theories. 

When the weather changes and there is less sunlight, it disrupts your body’s biological clock, also known as your circadian rhythm. Less sunlight also means that your brain will produce less serotonin, a chemical essential to regulating moods. 

Often, those with SAD have a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D naturally comes from the sun and helps promote serotonin activity. 

An increase in melatonin seems to come from a lack of sunlight as well. Overproduction of this neurotransmitter (chemical) can interfere with sleep patterns and mood. 

Treatment Options

There are many treatment options available to you or your loved one, if you need help managing your mood. Some may benefit from one type of treatment, while others may need more.  

The amount of help you need will depend on the severity of your symptoms. 

Light Therapy 

A light therapy box is a great way to get sunlight when it is dark and dreary outdoors.

Light boxes mimic outdoor light by emitting around 10,000 lux of fluorescent light. 

If you or your loved one try bright light therapy, you must use your lamp upon waking up in the morning and before bed at night for the best results. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

During talk therapy, you can learn to shift your negative thoughts to more positive ones. Many people find the wintertime depressing and need help changing their perspective.

CBT is also beneficial throughout the year, not only for seasonal depression, but it can help prevent caregiver burnout too.  

You don’t need to love winter to discover and enjoy new hobbies. The behavioral part of therapy will teach you or your loved one how to overcome the challenges preventing you from engaging in activities.

Antidepressant Medications

Doctors often prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to those suffering from symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. 

If you are inclined to get SAD each year and your symptoms are severe, SSRIs work best if taken at the end of fall or the start of winter before symptoms appear. 

The medication works by increasing the amount of serotonin in your brain, which helps boost your mood. 

Vitamin D

Taking a vitamin D supplement can help improve your levels when they are lacking. An easy way to check if yours are low is to ask your doctor to do blood work. 

Vitamin D supplements alone will not treat SAD, but when combined with other treatments, they can be beneficial in managing debilitating symptoms. 

Get Outdoors

The more you and your senior loved one get outside, the more sunlight your body will absorb. Not to mention, connecting with nature can be great for your body, mind, and soul. 

If you can’t get outdoors, try sitting by a window for ten minutes. Exposure to the sun increases the happy chemicals in the brain and stabilizes circadian rhythm.

Exercise

Thirty minutes of exercise a day can help the body release endorphins, known to improve mood and well-being. 

Physical and mental health are closely related, and generally, improving one will improve the other. 

If it is too difficult for you or your loved one to exercise for thirty minutes at a time, you can try exercising for shorter periods, multiple times a day. For example, 10 minutes, three times a day. 

Caregiver Seasonal Depression — Help is Only a Phone Call Away 

The Kensington Reston is an assisted living and memory care community that is here for our residents and their families 24/7. 

We offer specialized care for our Alzheimer’s and dementia residents by providing enhanced assisted living care. 

Our Promise is to love and care for your senior loved one as we would our own family.

We understand the winter months and seasonal depression pose many challenges to caregivers and seniors alike. This is why through our informative hub Kensington Konnect, we offer resources for caregivers, seniors, and their families. 

Our staff recognizes how important you and your senior loved one’s mental and emotional health is, so we strive to offer the best services and support. 

Contact us to learn more about our cozy and safe homes, life-enrichment activities, exquisite dining services, and rehabilitation programs.

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