Depression is a common condition for the elderly. Decreased light and changing temperatures during the fall and winter months can exacerbate the symptoms. The increased presence of depressive symptoms during these seasons can occur even with the warm winter conditions of Florida. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a regular disorder that typically starts and ends at the same time of year. For that reason, in order to still get the most out of those darker months, it’s a good idea to take steps to ease symptoms. It is more likely to occur in women than men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the elderly are at a greater risk of developing depression, but are often misdiagnosed or undertreated for it. Other chronic health conditions increase the chances of a person developing a depressive disorder, and as much as 80 percent of the elderly population in the United States have a chronic health condition.
In Florida, where the temperatures stay warmer longer, many that are dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can be overlooked. Floridians and assisted living facilities decorate like it is fall and winter. Out come the fall leaves and pumpkins, even though the short sleeves stay on. Residents are often more sensitive to air conditioning, and the high temperatures outside are not as much of a deterrent. Residents, in some cases, may not be able to express what season it is but can still be aware because of their surroundings. Menus change to include more soups and chili and the visiting entertainment sing holidays carols. Are you and your staff looking for signs of SAD in your residents? Not every person gets depressed, but many times the confused resident is unnoticed if she becomes slightly depressed because she is less active. Sometimes, the depression can add to a resident’s confusion and go unnoticed.
Symptoms of SAD may include feelings of ongoing depression, loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, low energy, difficulty sleeping, changes in weight or appetite, change in sleep pattern, increased aches and pains, irritability, feelings of sluggishness or agitation, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide. These can range from very slight to very sever. Obviously, verbalizing thoughts of death or suicide would need immediate emergent care.
Simple things to help the symptoms may already be part of your activity program, so you just need to be purposeful in engaging the residents. While outdoor exercise is the best for treating seasonal depression, it is not always possible during cooler, windy or damp days. However, whenever possible, it is important to get outside and exercise, even if just for 15-30 minutes during the day. We do live in the Sunshine State, so help your residents take advantage of it. However, if going outside isn’t an option, try to encourage exercise in front of a window, consider chair exercises or any form of movement your residents can safely do.
Whether exercising or not, natural sunlight is one of the best remedies for darker moods brought on by seasonal depression. Sit by a window and promote sunshine inside. Make sure to keep all of your shades open throughout the day to let in as much light as possible.
Encourage residents to stick to their routine for getting up around the same time each day. Encourage sleeping only briefly during the day to ensure they continue to sleep well at night. Obviously, this is resident-specific, but too much sleep during the day will result in less nighttime sleep which may cause increased symptoms of depression. Also, always encourage a healthy diet.
Aromatherapy is an easy option for many to use. The essential oils that you get from aromatherapy are said to influence the parts of the brain responsible for mood and emotion. They can help brighten the mood during the day and stimulate the resident’s senses.
Communication is the key to assisting your residents who might experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. Communicate with the families, physicians, and responsible parties. Sometimes, you will learn facts about the residents that really help you understand the resident better with the goal of supporting the resident during this time.
Communicate with the primary physician or home health agency attending to the resident’s medical needs. Ask for a consult with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker or Psychologist to see the resident. A resident being confused can be reason enough to communicate with the appropriate support services. Many times, non-pharmacological interventions can help, but sometimes the need for an antidepressant will be necessary. Make sure you have communicated with the physicians and responsible parties early when symptoms are noted.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is something that when you are aware of for your residents, then you are more likely able to minimize the struggle for the resident. Teach your staff to communicate even the small changes and it will go a long way.