Skilled Nursing Facility Shares Tips for Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder


Many people within skilled nursing facility report feeling “down” or having the “winter blues” during the winter months when the days get shorter and they feel better in the spring and summer when longer daylight hours return. While it may be  just a passing thought for some, it is a real condition that can disrupt daily life for others. The condition is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and it is a form of depression that causes symptoms such as lack of energy and feelings of sadness or melancholy.

It tends to be triggered by the onset of the fall and winter months. Experts theorize that the change of seasons disrupts a person’s daily rhythms called circadian rhythms. Others believe that changes in the production of hormones like serotonin and melatonin play a role. Either way, we know that seasonal affective disorder can impact residents at our Northern Colorado skilled nursing community. 

The Eden Alternative Can Reduce SAD

Fortunately, our skilled nursing community is guided by the Eden Alternative philosophy and approach to elder care which can play a significant role in helping older adults combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is often exacerbated by feelings of isolation and limited engagement, particularly during the colder months. The Eden Alternative focuses on creating vibrant and socially engaging environments. By promoting a sense of community and encouraging meaningful connections, older adults can find companionship and emotional support, countering the loneliness that often accompanies SAD.

Additionally, incorporating nature into daily activities, a key aspect of the Eden Alternative, aligns with strategies for mitigating SAD symptoms. Exposure to natural light, outdoor spaces, and the nurturing of plants can positively impact mood and well-being, providing a holistic approach to addressing the challenges posed by Seasonal Affective Disorder in older adults.

How to Manage SAD

It is important to keep in mind that SAD is a form of depression. As such, we encourage residents to discuss their symptoms with their health care provider. Below are some steps older adults can take, in consultation with their physician, to combat SAD:

  • Stick to a schedule. SAD can make it difficult to sleep and therefore harder to get out of bed in the morning. However, it is best if you continue to go to bed and get up at the same time even as the seasons change.
  • Use light therapy. Light therapy boxes produce light that is similar to sunshine and may help keep your circadian rhythms on track. Light therapy may be most effective when used first thing in the morning.
  • Try a dawn simulator. These devices produce light that gradually increases in intensity to mimic the rising of the sun. They may make it easier for you to get up in the morning.
  • Get or stay active. Regular exercise can help protect against SAD.  
  • Take a vitamin D supplement. Your doctor can perform tests to determine if your level of vitamin D is low. If it is, it can be helpful to take a vitamin D supplement.
  • Try aromatherapy. Some researchers believe that the areas of the brain that control mood can be influenced by essential oils.
  • Spend time outside. While the light provided by a light box or dawn simulator is helpful, nothing beats getting a healthy dose of natural sunlight each day.
  • Consider antidepressant medication. For more serious cases of SAD that don’t respond to other therapies, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant. If that is the case, be sure to take it as directed and do not stop taking it without consulting your physician.

Be Proactive in Dealing with SAD

We encourage residents to be proactive about all aspects of their physical, mental and emotional health. This includes SAD. Too often people think the only option for dealing with seasonal depression is to “grin and bear it,” but there are many treatment options that can make the fall and winter months much more enjoyable.