Winter is often the prime time for people susceptible to seasonal affective disorder to display associated symptoms.

Older persons suffering from the disorder can be at an even greater increased risk of mental and physical health complications.

Seasonal affective disorder is different than depression, and is caused by the decreased daylight common to the winter season, said Ron Keller, executive director at Senior Star at Dublin Retirement Village.

Symptoms include fatigue, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities, a sense of hopelessness, anxiety and irritability, said Jeanne Joseph, Friendship Village of Dublin wellness director.

Symptoms could also include either a loss of appetite or a weight gain, along with a change in sleep patterns.

People suffering from seasonal affective disorder also experience relationship problems or increased alcohol or drug use.

Sometimes, seasonal affective disorder can lead to depression, Joseph said.

Depression in senior citizens, because of their advanced age, could weaken immune systems and possibly lead to other physical problems, she said.

Seniors' brains are often already stressed because of illness, said Paula Taliaferro, education and outreach coordinator for the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging. A period of depression, whether from seasonal affective disorder or something else, can put added stress on the brain.

"That's obviously never good," she said.

Especially after the holidays, "all the hoopla is gone," Keller said. Seniors living alone with seasonal affective disorder who don't receive help could begin suffering from depression.

When seniors withdraw and turn inward, they are at a greater risk for infection, because they might not be taking care of themselves, Keller said.

Those with a family history of cardiovascular disease could be at greater risk because they aren't active. A lack of socialization could also cause cognitive decline. Increased mortality is also a risk.

"Everybody's life is so busy, but we forget about that senior, that parent, that may be living alone," Keller said.

 

Caretakers or family members with elderly family or friends living alone can help combat seasonal affective disorder by opening drapes, moving a chair to a place with more sun, or changing lightbulbs to ones which mimic sunlight, Keller said.

Siblings can take turns calling parents daily. If seniors are able to drive, they can be encouraged to make lunch dates, volunteer or spend time with grandchildren, Keller said.

Exercise, entertainment, comedy, socialization and community meals all help combat winter blues, he said.

"If a senior doesn't have a purpose or reason to get out of bed in the morning, that's a problem," Keller said.

Those in retirement communities often have an easier time combatting seasonal affective disorder than those living alone, because they have more access to activities, Taliaferro said.

Whereas sunlight helps combat symptoms, any kind of movement also helps.

New research has also shown music is helpful in lifting moods, Taliaferro said.

"The act of moving your body in rhythm connects both sides of your brain and seems to be incredibly helpful," she said.

Talking about old memories connects the inside and outside of the brain, also improving mood, Taliaferro said. Anything involving the senses, such as baking, also helps.

Those with signs of true depression, who are unable to take care of daily living functions, should see a doctor, said Hollie Goldberg, director of older adult and quality improvement services with Syntero.

Someone could be dealing with depression, for example, or the symptoms could actually be a side effect of medication, she said.

Sometimes confusion associated with dementia could just be linked to depression, Goldberg said. Alternatively, depression symptoms could be a sign of dementia.

Those in the early stages of dementia could be exhibiting symptoms of depression because of the frustration associated with dementia symptoms, she said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah