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For older adults, wintertime health risks go beyond worries about slipping on ice. Seniors are also at risk for seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
This seasonal form of depression, seen in fall and winter, can cause low energy, fatigue, weight gain, a desire to be left alone, apathy and a desire to sleep.
Jennifer Markulec, R.N., Director of Nursing and Wellness at Stony Brook Assisted Living, says SAD is caused by reduced levels of sunlight in the fall and winter months. This disrupts the body's internal clock (called circadian rhythm), which can lead to depression. Additionally, less sunlight can decrease the amount of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical that regulates our mood.
Seniors can be uniquely susceptible to SAD, Ms. Markulec said. “Senior adults are more isolated and often have physical limitations, which can lead to depression,” she said.
Ms. Markulec cautions that SAD should not be self-diagnosed. “A doctor or qualified medical professional should do a thorough assessment,” she said. “Symptoms like this can sometimes be a sign of a more serious or complex psychiatric disorder.”
“Here at Stony Brook,” Ms. Markulec said, “Our employees know each resident so well that they’re able to quickly spot mood and behavior changes that might point to depression. We can start working immediately with the resident and family to head off or address any problems.”
SAD is generally treated with light therapy or antidepressants.
Stony Brook, at 143 West Franklin Avenue in Pennington, is affiliated with Princeton-based Springpoint Senior Living, New Jersey’s leading provider of senior housing. The Springpoint continuum includes senior living, assisted living, and affordable housing communities. To learn more, please visit www.stonybrookonline.org