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Alzheimer's and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerOctober 3, 2018

Nearly 40% of people with Alzheimer’s disease and 20% of family caregivers suffer from significant depression – nearly twice the rate of the general population. Depression can strike at any time, but seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of recurrent depressive episode, occurs during the same season each year.

Learn more about how SAD affects people with Alzheimer’s and how to manage symptoms in yourself, a parent or senior loved one.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a “form of depression in which people experience depressive episodes during specific times of the year.” The most common time for these type of depressive episodes to occur is in the fall or winter, with the episodes lessening in the spring and warmer months, although SAD can also occur in the summer.

Affecting nearly 10 million Americans, SAD is not a separate disorder, but a type of depression with a seasonal pattern.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, it may become more difficult for a person with the disease to recognize the signs and symptoms of SAD in themselves.

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • A “heavy” feeling in arms and legs
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased sensitivity to social rejection
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of personal care
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden changes in mood, appetite, or energy level
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Weight gain

Tips for Managing SAD

Because many of these symptoms also overlap with Alzheimer’s, it’s important to notice any sudden changes that may coincide with a change in seasons and see a physician if these symptoms occur.

Treating the symptoms of SAD usually involves some combination of antidepressant medication, behavioral counseling, light therapy and vitamin D.

If you or a loved one is prone to depressive episodes, be aware of how the episodes coincide with a change of seasons and take extra steps for self-care at this time. This can include:

  • Making fun plans for each season
  • Making time for a regular physical activity
  • Monitoring your own energy levels and mood
  • Purchasing an indoor light for better exposure
  • Seeking medical help sooner rather than later if symptoms develop
  • Taking advantage of sunlight

Do you, a parent or senior loved one struggle with a seasonal affective disorder? How do you manage the symptoms? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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