By Dr. Nora DeVoe, Ph.D.
Geriatric Care Manager


Affective Disorder

Now that we are officially into spring, I have been reflecting on the seasonal changes that may bring on sadness, low energy, and other symptoms classified as SAD or seasonal affective disorder. Perhaps that is why so many of us get a new sense of energy, brightness, and even hope once we get more daylight.

A lot of people experience the blues during the fall and winter months. If your winter blues feel more like depression and affect your daily life, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

The specific causes of SAD are not fully known, but there are several factors that may contribute to the condition, including changes in circadian rhythms (our internal biological body clocks) that occur with reduced levels of sunlight in the fall and winter. Seasonal changes also affect the balance of melatonin, a natural hormone in the body that affects sleep and mood. Also, reduced sunlight can be associated with a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is associated with mood. The symptoms of SAD include feeling sad, loss of interest in activities, low levels of energy, difficulty concentrating, oversleeping, weight gain, and a craving for carbohydrates.

The major environmental factor associated with SAD is the change in seasons and associated levels of light. In most cases, the onset of SAD is in the fall or winter with symptoms remitting in the spring. Because a majority of symptoms involve sunlight, the condition tends to be more common in areas that experience a full range of seasonal weather, rather than states like Florida or Nevada that tend to have more sunlight in winter.

Because lack of sunlight tends to trigger symptoms in people with SAD, light therapy is often used as a treatment. Light therapy uses a very bright fluorescent light that mimics light from the sun and may be quite helpful. Biological studies of light therapy indicate that the antidepressant effects of light has to do with its role in normalizing circadian rhythms that are responsible for the time and production of a wide range of hormones, including melatonin. Simply brightening the lights in our home will not have the same effect as using a light therapy box. These special light therapy boxes are widely available and you do not need a prescription to purchase a light box.

In addition to light therapy, diet and exercise are also important in helping with mood and promoting beneficial physical effects. Some research suggests that a low fat, low protein diet may be best for people with SAD. If you suspect you have SAD, you can seek treatment from either your general practitioner or a mental health professional.

I am glad that we are once again in the spring season which always gives me a renewed sense or "spring fever" where my energy and mood are very positive and I know I will tackle all those chores like spring cleaning, organizing the basement and garage, painting, yard work, landscaping and planting, window washing, etc...

Hey, let the sun shine in!

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Nora DeVoe is a Gerontologist specializing in Eldercare and Caregiver issues. She may be reached at (716) 667-7299.  

Dr. Nora is a ....