“The gloom of winter seems to get inside some people, the dark affecting their moods as well as their days.” So says the latest issue of Harvard Healthbeat.
Known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this form of depression affects a small percentage of the population. Although it strikes all genders and ages, women are more likely to develop SAD than men, and young people are more likely to develop it than older people.
“SAD seems to be triggered by decreased exposure to daylight. Typically, it arrives during the fall or winter months and subsides in the spring. Symptoms are similar to general depression and include lethargy, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, interpersonal problems, irritability, inability to concentrate, and changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, or both,” Healthbeat continued.
I have mentioned a number of times my aunt who died from Alzheimer’s. She lived just over six years with it and died at the age of 93. But, I had known her my entire life and before getting sick, she had been a major character in my life. For years I called her daily and chatted about everything under the sun. She had often told me how she hated the winter because it always depressed her and she didn’t really ‘feel good’ until spring.
After she came down with Alzheimer’s I had a caregiver living with her. I asked the doctor how long she might be able to stay at her own home under care. He said that unless she became aggressive or hostile there was no reason to move her to a nursing home. As winter was approaching, I feared that she might become depressed and possibly aggressive.
Because I wanted my aunt to continue to live in her own home in familiar surroundings, I ordered several full spectrum lights for her. These are lights that produce the full color spectrum that exists in natural sunlight as opposed to our regular electric lights which furnish a reduced spectrum.
Wikipedia said, “In recent years, full-spectrum lighting has been used in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) through the use of “light boxes” that mimic natural sunlight, which may not be available in some areas during the winter months. Light is an environmental stimulus for regulating circadian cycles.”
“Experts don’t fully understand the cause of SAD, but leading theories place the blame on an out-of-sync body clock or on improper levels of either the hormone melatonin or the neurotransmitter serotonin, according to Harvard.
“The mainstay of SAD treatment is light therapy, also called phototherapy. Phototherapy involves daily sessions of sitting close to a special light source that is far more intense than normal indoor light….
“The light must enter through the eyes to be effective; skin exposure doesn’t seem to work. Some people feel better after only one light treatment, but most people require at least a few days of treatment, and some need several weeks. You do not need a prescription to purchase a light box to treat SAD; however it’s best to work with a professional to monitor the benefits of the treatment.”
At the same time I bought my aunt’s lights, I ordered one for myself to see if it would have an effect on me. I live in a highrise building and like to read near my big windows where the daylight pours in. After getting my full spectrum light, I was able to sit in the chair by it and read at night with the same pleasure as day time. It really worked well.
The lights apparently worked for my aunt, too. She lived over six years in her home and never needed to be put into a nursing home before she died.
For additional advice on light therapy for SAD and other ways to improve your mood and alleviate depression, buy Understanding Depression from Harvard Medical School.