Many people experience an emotional low during the cold, dark winter months, hence the term “winter blues.” Older adults are even more susceptible to this, given that many of them have trouble getting out even during summer. If you’re looking for ways to brighten their days, here are nine ideas for cheering up elderly loved ones during the darker winter months:
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Visit them in person where possible.
Some families do move their elderly loved ones in with them, but there are plenty of other seniors who are aging in place or live in an assisted facility. Even if your elderly loved ones do live with other family members, they will still benefit from a visit from you if you live nearby. Always take precautions during a visit, such as testing beforehand and wearing a mask, to avoid infecting vulnerable seniors with COVID. You should also keep the visit short if they are easily fatigued to avoid overwhelming them.
Hang out with them virtually.
If you live far away, or your loved one is especially vulnerable, then in person visits might not be possible or advisable. In that case, you can do a video or phone call with them instead. If your elderly loved ones don’t know how to do this already, then they may need some coaching on how to operate the technology. As with in person visits, watch out for signs of fatigue and wrap up the call if your loved one’s energy is lagging.
Help them socialize with friends.
Socializing with people outside of just family members will further cheer up your loved one and also broaden their circle of social support. If your loved one struggles to dress or drive themselves, or isn’t sure how to join a group video call, you can provide hands-on help in that area to help them connect with friends. If they don’t already have a lot of friends, you should also encourage them to connect with peers through book clubs, exercise classes and other experiences tailored towards seniors. Gifts such as easy-to-put-on clothes and shoes for the elderly can also help make getting out of the house less of a struggle.
Support their hobbies.
The inclement winter weather can make it unpleasant and even dangerous for people to go outside, which is why this is the perfect time to encourage indoor activities for the elderly. Hobbies such as board games, puzzles, painting and woodworking are great options for cold days when going outside isn’t the best idea. Do what you can to encourage these hobbies, whether it is buying your loved one craft supplies or signing them up for a virtual class.
Give them small gifts.
Just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give your relatives gifts! After all, gift giving is one of the five main love languages, and if it’s one of your loved one’s, then small presents can go a long way towards cheering them up. The gifts don’t have to be large or expensive. Even something as small as a handwritten card or a housecoat to keep them warm can totally make their day or week. Look for thoughtful, meaningful items instead of just giving them random junk just for the sake of it.
Encourage them to exercise.
Besides its many physical health benefits, exercise also provides great mental health benefits, thanks to its release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. Unfortunately, the winter makes it difficult or even impossible to engage in outdoor workouts. Help your loved one continue to exercise by helping them to find indoor alternatives that they can do safely at home or at the gym. Aerobics classes, indoor cycling, weight lifting, Pilates, yoga and swimming are all great options if they’re not sure where to start.
Make sure they are eating a balanced diet.
What we eat plays a major role in how we feel, and this is true for seniors as well. Make sure that they are eating a nutritious, balanced diet that is rich in lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. They should also watch their consumption of alcohol, refined sugar and carbs and unhealthy fats. A little indulgence is fine in moderation, but if they go overboard a lot, they will start to experience the consequences both physically and mentally.
Let there be light.
The waning daylight hours can upset the body’s circadian rhythm and increase feelings of fatigue and depression. This is especially true for people who live closer to the poles, where days are much shorter than the equator. To help counteract the natural darkness, make sure that their home is well stocked with artificial lights. A sunrise alarm clock can help wake them up naturally in the morning if they like to rise while it’s still dark outside. With daily use, a dedicated light therapy lamp can help provide a mood boost and counteract seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Ask them to consider therapy.
Older adults are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety as well as life circumstances that can worsen them (for instance, living in isolation and not getting enough social interaction). Watch out for signs of depression and anxiety in your loved one, which can get worse seasonally in winter. If the other things listed here don’t help, then they may benefit from talk therapy as well as potentially taking medications. Multi-pronged treatment plans can make a huge difference in mental health at any age, so encourage your loved one to get help if they need it.
We hope this list gave you some inspiration for ways to cheer up your loved one during the winter months. Make sure to check on them periodically, especially if they live alone, to see if they’re holding up okay as winter turns to spring.