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Family Support Plan for Seniors During Winter

daughter with senior mother wearing mask

With the weather getting colder, you’ve probably started thinking about what you can do to help elderly residents combat the winter blues. Many seniors experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that tends to cause mood changes during the fall and winter. Someone with SAD might lose interest in the activities that he or she once enjoyed, have less energy and difficulty concentrating, and feel hopeless, with frequent thoughts about death or even suicide. 

Although researchers are still working to determine exactly what causes SAD, it’s believed that someone with this condition may have reduced serotonin levels or increased melatonin levels. Some studies also suggest that the decrease in vitamin D levels that results from less sunlight exposure during the winter may worsen these problems. Seniors may be at a particularly high risk for developing SAD because their understandable fear of slipping and falling on icy surfaces could prevent them from venturing outside and getting the vitamin D they need.

Even older adults who don’t have SAD can experience the winter blues, especially if the colder weather prevents them from seeing loved ones as often as they normally would. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that almost one quarter of adults 65 and over are considered socially isolated, which can increase their risk of developing dementia, heart disease, stroke, and other serious conditions. The Health Resources & Services Administration has also stated that 43% of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis, and that there is a 45% increased risk of mortality in seniors who report feeling lonely.

With this in mind, we’ve put together the following tips on how to care for elderly residents to help boost their mood during the winter:

  • Consider light therapy. One of the most common ways to treat SAD is to have the affected person sit beside a light box for approximately 30 to 45 minutes every day during the winter months. It’s important to check with your residents’ doctors before investing in these boxes, though, since this treatment could be harmful to someone who has an eye condition or who is taking medications that increase light sensitivity.
  • Spread some cheer. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities often decorate common areas, especially during the winter holidays, but are there any decorations in your residents’ personal living spaces? If not, you may want to help them add some. Even if there’s not a lot of room, you can probably fit some flowering house plants, brightly colored wall art, or handmade decorations from the grandkids.
  • Encourage time reminiscing. When the days are short, it can be tempting for senior residents to spend all their time in front of the television, which isn’t healthy. If they or their families happen to have some photo albums handy, encourage them to take a glance through them with their loved ones. They’ll probably love having the chance to look back on the past, and who knows—they may even end up telling some old family stories that family members have never gotten to hear before.
  • Honor their traditions. The winter months can cause many people to experience the holiday blues. The holidays can be especially hard for seniors who can’t take part in the traditions they once enjoyed, so try to bring that magic back for them. If one of your residents loved a certain type of holiday cookie, for instance, see if your team or their family members can whip up a batch. Or, if another resident always threw a big Super Bowl party, arrange for him or her to watch the big game with fellow football fans, and maybe even throw in a few decorations and snacks.

COVID-19 Considerations

Given the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, many seniors are understandably hesitant to leave their residences. Although staying home could reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19, it could also place them at a higher risk for developing SAD, since they’ll have even less sun exposure than during a normal winter. Plus, despite the many benefits that social distancing offers, having reduced contact with loved ones could contribute to depression. But there are still a number of things you can do to boost your residents’ mood this winter, even with social distancing measures in place:

  • Send greetings. Even if their family can’t help decorate in person, you can still help add some cheer to your residents’ living space by recruiting friends and family to send them greeting cards. They’ll love getting to hear from everyone, and the cards can serve as decor throughout the whole season.
  • Bring the feast to them. For many people, the winter months are marked by comfort food recipes—think chicken pot pie, beef stew, and lasagna. If your residents can’t visit their loved ones’ homes this year for family dinners due to COVID-19, they may feel like they’re missing out. Help them feel like they’re part of the celebration by encouraging their family members to drop off home-cooked meals.
  • Take advantage of technology. Video chatting is the next-best thing to seeing loved ones in person, so make sure to encourage family members to keep up with regular video sessions. Encourage video chats while residents and their families eat their respective dinners or watch movies at the same time.

Convenient In-Home Medical Care

Urgent care clinics and emergency rooms can be incredibly busy during the winter months, so if any of your residents come down with an illness or sustain an injury, avoid the hassle and reach out to DispatchHealth instead. We can treat almost anything an ER can, but for a fraction of the price. Contact us today to learn more about partnering with us.

Sources

DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/winter-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-149072.htm 
  2. https://www.care.com/c/stories/5707/getting-help-with-the-holiday-blues/ 
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html 
  4. https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic 
  5. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml