Seniors and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) is a kind of depression that happens at the same time every year. For most people, the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder start in the late fall and carry on into the winter months. Most of us experience some kind of seasonal changes in energy, eating patterns, sleep patterns and feelings of well being. The “winter blues” are common amongst Canadians, but some people experience more intense changes. Changes that are strong enough to be a form of clinical depression  – this is SAD.

SAD is believed to be caused by lack of sunlight, serotonin and melatonin fluctuations, changes in body temperature and disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythms. Like many mental health conditions, genetics, age and the body’s chemical balance will all contribute to the likelihood of developing SAD.

About 2 to 6% of Canadians have experienced SAD. While seasonal affective disorder is found in adults of all ages, older adults may have lifestyle factors that put them at higher risk. Seniors with mobility issues may get much less time outdoors and less exposure to natural sunlight. The recent death of a loved one and feelings of isolation can also increase the risk of developing SAD.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • Lethargy
  • Oversleeping
  • Withdrawal from social contacts
  • Disinterest in activities
  • Weight gain
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

There is no cure for SAD, but it can be managed. Consult a doctor for advice on treatment options

Here are some additional tips and lifestyle changes that can help seniors cope with SAD.

Light therapy

Using a “light box” for 30-45 minutes daily is believed to help reset the body’s rhythms and balance brain chemicals. The light from the light box is 10-20 times brighter than ordinary indoor lighting and is used to simulate sunlight. Consult your doctor for advice on buying and using a light box.

Bring more light inside

Open the curtains and blinds, move any furniture that blocks light, and trim any outdoor shrubs or trees that are blocking windows. Consider adding a skylight.

Get outside

If possible, get outside on sunny days, even when it’s cold. Outdoor light, even on overcast days, is still often brighter than light from a light box.


Physical activity can help relieve stress, anxiety and fatigue. As a proven mood lifter, regular exercise can be very helpful in managing  SAD.

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