6 Ways to Help a Parent With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Author: Maine Veterans' Homes
Posted: December 19, 2017
Category: Veteran Health & Wellness

With winter’s approach comes shorter days, more time indoors and sometimes even seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression.

Studies have shown that four to six percent of all Americans experience SAD when days grow colder and shorter.

If you are concerned your parent may be prone to SAD, here are some tips to help you identify the symptoms and find ways to help him or her overcome the wintertime blues.

Note: This blog was originally published in 2017. It was updated in 2019 for content and factual accuracy.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that comes with the change of seasons. SAD is most common during the winter months when we begin to experience less sunlight and struggle to get exposure to the outdoors.

In Maine, which receives about nine hours of sunlight each winter day, the disorder may be more common than in sunnier states.

Note that true SAD is different from the so-called “winter blues”, which may come in the form of a post-holiday letdown or feeling of lethargy.

Related: Is it dementia? Or military-related post-traumatic stress? >>

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can include:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you are noticing your parent losing interest in all activities he or she once enjoyed, not sleeping and a loss of appetite, consult with a doctor or another professional.  

Related: How to spot and treat the flu in the elderly >>

6 Tips for Beating the Winter Blues

For some, SAD begins in the fall months and lasts through the winter months. Since it's a form of depression, don’t be afraid to talk to your parent’s doctor or another professional for guidance.

If your parent is experiencing many of the SAD symptoms, has medical conditions and needs care assistance, this may be a time to talk with a long term care provider on what care options exist for your parent. 

For many, SAD can be managed with the right form of treatment. Help your loved one with seasonal affective disorder by using these tips:

1. Social Interaction

Find opportunities where your parent can interact and bond with others, which can immediately increase happiness. 

2. Activities

Encourage your parent to continue the activities they enjoy during the other seasons such as reading and listening to music. This will give them something to look forward to each day or week.

3. Vitamin D

Consuming Vitamin D supplements may improve your parent’s cognitive health when dealing with seasonal depression. Many adults don’t get the necessary amount of exposure to the sunlight to absorb Vitamin D; therefore, taking a supplement will likely help their overall health.

Be sure to check with your parent’s physician before advising them to take any supplement.

4. Exercise

Encourage your parent to stay active. An appropriate exercise program three to four times a week can reverse mild depression while improving physical health as well. Here are 10 exercises specifically for seniors.

5. Lighten Up

During the dark gloom of the winter, you may want to invest in a light box for your parent. This light can serve as a form of therapy by creating an environment that improves mood. Those specifically for SAD provide illumination that resembles natural light.  

6. Create Coziness

Help your parent feel more connected to friends and family through pictures, videos and cards. Host a card shower where various people send them greeting cards.

If your parent is already in long term care , use these tips to creating a meaningful and engaging visit to help lift his or her spirit. And most importantly, focus any visit with your parent on being about quality time that brings out the joy in both of you.

Veteran-Focused Care Options

At Maine Veterans’ Homes, our staff members continuously plan events and activities that encourage residents to socialize, stay active indoors when they can’t get outside, and promote an overall sense of belonging. Staying active and engaged can help residents in long term care reduce the effects of SAD.

Our long term care is different because we not only welcome Veterans, but were established specifically to care for Veterans and eligible family members.

Learn more about the services we provide, and see if your loved one is eligible to live here, by downloading our free guide.

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