Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD) in seniors living in Ottawa

Seasonal Affective Disorders

Winter in Ottawa is tough on everyone, but especially on seniors with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What exactly is SAD?

SAD is a kind of depression that’s connected to changes in season. In most though not all cases, those with SAD experience depression in the winter but get better in the spring and summer.

Here’s a detailed look at SAD, and how seniors with SAD living in and outside Ottawa can live a good life even in the winter.

Seasonal Affective Disorders

Affective disorders

SAD is an affective disorder. Affective disorders, otherwise known as mood disorders, are mental disorders characterized by severe shifts in mood.

An affective disorder is not the same as being merely moody. “Mood” in the psychiatric sense does not mean the same as “mood” in the colloquial sense. 

The two main affective disorders are depression and manic-depression, otherwise known as bipolar disorder.

SAD is not as severe as manic-depression, where individuals experience extreme shifts in mood, oscillating between depression and mania or hypomania (mild mania), or experiencing these two mood states at once (mixed mania), with periods of stability in between.

Those with SAD do not experience mania or mixed mania, and, unlike manic-depression, which is incurable though treatable, SAD can go away.

SAD is a type of depressive disorder, along with:

  • persistent depressive disorder
  • major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • postpartum depression
  • premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • psychotic depression
  • atypical depression
  • treatment-resistant depression

Seniors are more at risk of experiencing depressive disorders including SAD, especially seniors who live alone rather than in seniors homes near Ottawa, but there are things they can do to manage it.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD include

  • Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Undereating or overeating 
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentration or processing information
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Cravings for alcohol or other substances
  • Feeling worthless, despondent, ashamed, or guilty

The first step to seeking treatment for SAD is speaking to a doctor. Seniors with reduced mobility or without easy access to transportation can seek treatment for SAD in or near their neighbourhood simply by searching for a doctor in their area online. For instance, a senior living in Parkway Park can search “Parkway Park doctor” or “Parkway Park psychiatrist.”

Winter-Pattern Sad vs Summer-Pattern Sad

Seniors who show signs of depression during the fall or winter may have what’s called winter-pattern SAD or winter depression.

Seniors who show signs of depression during spring or summer may have summer-pattern SAD, also known as summer depression.

Summer-pattern SAD is less common than winter-pattern SAD, especially in places that are far from the equator and have dark and cold winters, such as Ottawa.

Treating SAD in ageing adults living in Ottawa

Medical professionals have not determined what exactly causes SAD, although factors that likely play a role are melatonin levels, circadian rhythms, and serotonin levels.

Treatment options for ageing adults with SAD who live in or near Ottawa include light therapy and medication, typically anti-depressants.

Other treatment options that some seniors may find effective include journaling and taking vitamin D supplements.

For those with winter-pattern SAD, seeking treatment before winter starts can be an effective method for preventing symptoms.

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