Winter is the season of festive cheer and holidays. While most people love the holiday season, winter also means lower temperatures, shorter days, and fewer social outings. After all, who wants to go out in the snow?
It’s not unusual for people to feel sad during the colder months. Lower energy levels, lethargy, and feeling sad are all symptoms of the winter blues. Also knows as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the winter blues affects about 10-20% of the population in northern countries . It can be hard to beat for most adults and children.
For seniors with decreased mobility and independence, it can seem impossible. Unfortunately, a deterioration in emotional health can also affect seniors physically. The social isolation and general lethargy can cause or worsen health conditions.
No one quite knows why people feel sad during the winter months. But most physicians agree it’s due to the shorter days and lack of sunlight. Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently, so what works for one person may not work for another. Any senior community should offer a range of options a activities to suit all their residents.
So here are a few tips on helping your residents beat the winter blues this season:
Get Enough Sunlight
At first glance, this seems difficult. Who wants to go out in the cold and snow? With the days getting shorter, seniors can only go out for a few hours. But what you can do is organize activities that motivate them to venture outside.
Pick a day where the temperatures are not too cold for outdoor activities. Make sure residents are bundled up against the cold and wearing skid-proof footwear. Snowshoeing or ice skating is an option for seniors without mobility issues. Short walks and hikes are also a good idea for everyone to participate in.
But going outside may not always be feasible. What can do when it’s too cold or snowing? Organize indoor activities near big windows that let in natural light. Encourage residents to participate in board games or video games in brightly-lit rooms. There are ways to get enough sunlight without heading outside! For more ideas on social activities to organize for residents, visit our recent blog post.
It’s hard enough to exercise daily, let alone when the weather gets chilly. It’s tempting to bundle up and sit in a corner or just not get out of bed at all. But staying active or exercising is one way to beat the blues.
Again you can help residents stay active with group sessions or classes. Exercising with friends is often better than using the gym alone. The social aspect alone may well be enough to get them to exercise!
It’s easy to reach for sweets or comfort food when feeling sad. But eating unhealthy foods has been shown to make the problem worse. Help residents eat right by offering healthy alternatives like nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t just limit healthy options to mealtimes. Have plenty of snack options that aren’t sweets or popcorn. Salted nuts, roasted or fresh vegetables with light dips are better alternatives.
Get Enough Vitamin D
It’s hard for seniors to get enough vitamin D in winter. Not when the days are short and there’s barely time to head out. Ensure residents are checked by their physician for vitamin D deficiency. Left untreated, it can lead to muscle pains and worsen feelings of sadness. Some seniors will need supplements while others can by spending more time in direct sunlight.
One option is to provide light therapy lamps in common areas. Spending time under a daylight lamp is almost as effective as taking anti-depression medication for a lot of people.
With shorter days in winter, it’s not unusual for seniors to want to spend more time sleeping or in bed. But establishing and maintaining routines can help combat SAD. Give your residents something to look forward to by organizing parties or small events.
A puzzle tournament in the afternoon or a board game evening can help residents stay connected with friends. Social interaction has positive effects on the emotional health of seniors at the best of time. It can work wonders during the long and cold winter months as well.
Encourage seniors to stay in touch with friends and family online. Just because they can’t visit in person is no reason to lose contact. With free and fast wifi, residents can video chat with grandchildren or play games with family members. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical activity in the winter.
A brighter environment can also help in general. Open up the curtains and add lights in otherwise dark areas. Play some upbeat music or leave the TV on in common areas. Not all these tips will work for everyone but a few will be effective.
Go ahead and use these tips to help your residents stay happy, healthy and beat the blues this winter.