7 Ways You Can Help Your Aging Loved One Overcome the Winter Blues

The dark and dreary days of winter can take an emotional toll on any of us, sapping our energy, enthusiasm and zest for life. However, the winter blues can be especially difficult for aging loved ones who are already considered to be at greater risk of becoming depressed.

Once the holidays have passed, we enter a seemingly interminable stretch when winter’s colder and shorter days seem like they will never end. During this period, older adults will sometimes dwell on the people and abilities they’ve lost over the years and become listless and forlorn. 

If you find that your aging parent or loved one is less engaged in life, sleeping more, or acting sad or moody, they might also be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD.”

Be Vigilant for the Depressive Symptoms of SAD 

According to AgingCare.com, “Feeling a bit glum may seem like an ordinary reaction to the fading glow of the holidays and the darker winter months, but, when that feeling of sadness persists for more than a week or two, it’s a red flag. 

“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that cycles with the seasons. It can occur during any time of the year, but it typically affects people during the winter months.

“As the weather gradually gets colder and the days get shorter, people affected by winter-induced SAD will generally begin to feel the symptoms of depression. Signs of SAD include a loss of energy, changes in appetite and sleeping habits, irritability and loss of interest in socializing and other activities.”

The American Academy of Family Physicians adds that SAD is relatively common with 10-20 percent of the population suffering its effects. It can create a disinterest in life, feelings of despair and depression, as well as affecting the memory and concentration of older Americans. Therefore, if you believe your aging loved one is exhibiting signs of SAD, be sure to make an appointment with their health care provider immediately since effective treatment is available. 

Useful Steps to Help Your Aging Loved One Reduce Those Winter Blues 

In addition to pursuing medical help in the more serious instances, there are other ways you can help your aging loved one get through the winter months.

Says Colleen Dwyer, RN, NHA, Administrator at Bryn Mawr Terrace located in Bryn Mawr, PA, “If you have an older loved one who appears to be struggling with the winter blues, it’s a good idea to become involved and provide them with support. To assist you, experts in senior health and healthy aging offer the following tips that can help your older loved one cope with winter’s cold, gray days and help them overcome the winter blues.”

1.  Let the sun shine in – Help your aging loved one to get more exposure to sunlight during the day to offset winter’s shorter days. Try to spend time outdoors with them to maximize the sun’s ability to give us more energy and a sunnier outlook on life. You can also open your blinds and curtains during the day and remove screens which darken the outdoor light.

2.  Light up their life – Artificial light therapy using a light box is another way you can counteract the depressive dark days of winter for your loved one.  A light box mimics sunlight and is frequently used in treating SAD. Experts say that light therapy can improve the moods of those suffering from the winter blues when used for just 20 or 30 minutes a day. 

3.   Keep them moving during the day – Exercise and physical activity can be highly beneficial in beating the winter blues. Exercise helps to release uplifting endorphins in the body that can counter feelings of sadness while improving mood, overall health and mental sharpness. Try taking daily walks with your older loved and encourage them to try activities such as yoga or Tai chi. You can also enjoy doing exercise-based video games with them that simulate tennis, golf and other active sports.

4.  Help them stay engaged with friends and family – Spend time with your loved one and do things that they enjoy such as shopping, going out to lunch, going to an afternoon movie or playing card games. They can also consider volunteering. If they enjoy animals, for example, they could spend a few hours a week helping at a local animal shelter.

You should also encourage your loved one to spend time with friends and avoid being housebound in the winter. Healthy aging experts say that isolation can make the winter blues worse and also increases the risk of depression. If driving is a problem for them, offer to provide transportation so they can get out of the house more often. 

5.  Maintain a healthy diet – A healthy diet also plays an important role in keeping the winter blues at bay.A balanced nutritious diet provides your aging loved one with a natural way to boost their mood and energy level. Also, make sure they are receiving enough vitamin D in their diet. A vitamin D deficiency can cause excessive fatigue and a depressed mood, and can be especially dangerous for older individuals. Foods such as salmon, eggs and fortified breakfast cereal can be useful in boosting your loved one’s vitamin D levels and their mood.

6.  Keep them looking forward! – Anticipating upcoming events on the calendar can also be uplifting.Encourage your aging loved one to look forward to upcoming activities and events, whether it’s seeing the grandchildren, visiting friends, going on a trip or making plans for spring. If they have nothing to look forward to, help them plan something! It’s important for them to stay engaged, have a purpose in life and a reason to get up every morning.

7.  Encourage an established sleep schedule – Experts in healthy aging advise that older adults should maintain a set sleep schedule in winter. Winter’s darkness can create the desire to go to bed early or sleep late, which can interfere with their body’s normal sleep-wake cycles and natural circadian rhythms.

By following these tips, you can help improve your aging loved one’s mood, outlook and emotional well-being this winter. And the good news is that spring is right around the corner! 

For more helpful senior living and senior care information, we invite you to read our monthly articles and tips on a variety of important senior health topics. We also welcome you to stop in for a tour to see for yourself why we’ve been rated “Best in Senior Care.” 

We’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts! 

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “7 Ways to Help an Aging Loved One Overcome the Winter Blues,” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

A Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

There are times when the challenges associated with advanced age, a prolonged illness or a chronic condition make 24-hour care and support a necessity. At Bryn Mawr Terrace, we’re always here for you and your family. Our compassionate, professional team treats our residents as family and respects each of them as the individuals they are, all with their own unique life story.

We understand that each one of our residents has unique needs and desires, so we deliver personalized care and services that are tailored to each individual. The amenities and activities offered within our community are designed to keep our residents happy, fulfilled and living well. From delicious dining to a variety of social programming, we offer a lifestyle that’s meant to be lived! 

Located near Bryn Mawr Hospital, Bryn Mawr Terrace – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has provided exceptional care and services to seniors and their families since 1966. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue. 

Today, Bryn Mawr Terrace serves as a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), offering a range of services – including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, independent living, personal care, memory care, restorative care and respite care – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing. 

For more information on Bryn Mawr Terrace and our variety of needs-based lifestyle services, please call us at 610.525.8300 or contact us online.

Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Bryn Mawr Terrace and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.

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