Seasonal Affective Disorder and Hospice Care
By Fr Cesar, Bereavement Coordinator
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is associated with the changing of the seasons and is more pronounced during cold or winter months. Sometimes people tend to dismiss SAD as “winter blues” because people may feel sadder when the days become shorter and the weather becomes colder; however, these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person thinks, feels, and acts.
Clinicians hypothesize that SAD may be connected to the limited amount of sunlight during cold months, starting with the fall season and culminating in winter. The reason behind this is that the body relies on the sun to maintain its circadian rhythm - the physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. It is further complicated by a low level of Vitamin D which is manufactured by the body when sunlight hits the skin. The Elderly, especially those who have limited mobility and social interactions such as those in hospice and palliative care settings, are most vulnerable to SAD. Adults with previous history of depression are known to develop a more acute form of SAD.
There are some practical tips on how to help our elderly persons who might be experiencing depression: (1) Arrange for them to have some exposure to sunlight (this could mean relocating them to a sunroom, if the house or facility is equipped with one, for a few minutes each day). (2) Communicating with the elderly on a regular basis, whether in person or through the use of built-in smartphone technology such as Facetime or teleconferencing software such as Zoom and similar applications; and (3) Planning social activities with them such as major holidays and significant occasions which would mean a lot to them, even if they are bed bound or chair-bound.
At HOPE Hospice, our clinicians are sensitive to the needs of our patients and are trained to spot signs of depression, including SAD and they coordinate with our social workers and counselors to make sure that the patient is supported and helped.