Would you know if the person you’re caring for is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Angelina Manzano reveals how to spot and ease the symptoms.
As the dark nights draw in, it can often spark a case of the winter blues. However for people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the reduction in daylight hours can trigger symptoms of depression that can be difficult to cope with at the best of times, but when that person also has dementia – the impact can be significant.
It can be hard to spot the symptoms of SAD, especially if the person you are caring for is already prone to mood swings. However there are some signs and symptoms you can look out for:
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Feelings of depression and helplessness
- Decreased energy and fatigue
- A change of appetite
Many carers will already recognise some of these as symptoms of dementia which can make it difficult to fathom if your loved one really is suffering from SAD. Therefore it’s always best to consult your GP or care team rather than self-diagnosing.
However if you know that SAD is an issue for the person you are caring for, then there are steps you can take at home to alleviate the symptoms for them…
Increase Vitamin D intake
A Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and can also cause bone pain and muscle weakness. Over time it can cause more serious ailments such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairment. Thankfully it’s relatively simple to increase Vitamin D. Although the best source is from natural sunlight, Vitamin D also naturally occurs in many foods including egg yolks, mushrooms, cheese, salmon, canned tuna and beef liver – and many other foods are fortified with Vitamin D such as milk, orange juice and cereal. Vitamin D spray and drops, which you can find in health food stores, are also a good means of topping up your reserves.
Although the best source is from natural sunlight, Vitamin D also naturally occurs in many foods
Exercise – preferably outdoors
Exercise has been shown to be a natural mood-booster. Your loved one may not be able to manage a marathon, but a daily walk can make a real difference. Especially if you can get out around midday or when the sun is at it’s brightest.
Keeping mentally active is just as important as being physically active. Social interaction is not only going to boost mood, it will also help to slow down cognitive impairment overall. Arranging gentle, low-pressure activities is best for someone with dementia so they don’t feel overwhelmed. A visit from a friend or family members, puzzles and games, a trip to a dementia day care centre, or just an afternoon listening to (and maybe having a dance to) their favourite music are all great stimulating activities.
Get more sleep
This one is particularly difficult for those with dementia who are probably already suffering from disrupted sleep patterns and finding themselves restless in the evenings. More exercise during the day can help, as can creating a calm environment before and during bedtime. Sticking to a routine at this time can also create a more comforting experience.
Finally, it may be worth investing in a light box – but it’s worth noting that these do give out a very bright light and to get the full benefits you would need to spend at least 30 minutes a day in front of it, so it may be impractical for some dementia patients.
If you think that SAD may be affecting your loved one, visit the NHS website or talk to your GP or care team for further information.