As the holidays pass and we enter the full grip of winter, sometimes the cheerful spirit we enjoyed in December takes a sad turn. Called the "winter blues," these feelings can affect people of all ages, but older adults are especially at risk. Fortunately, there are ways that you can help a loved one deal with this downtick in mood.
Why Are Older Adults More Susceptible?
Older adults are at a higher risk for feeling down during winter because of the age-related events they might face. These include:
- Losing close friends and family.
- Age-related health problems or complications.
- Financial concerns related to health and retirement.
- Separation and loneliness because of the loss of a loved one, family that has moved far away, or the loss of transportation, among other causes.
- Residual holiday-related stress, such as feeling exhausted after having to shop for presents and find time for scheduled functions and events.
The symptoms of winter blues are easy to spot. If your loved one is displaying a lack of physical activity along with signs of fatigue and sadness, or seems abnormally apathetic to planned events and their surroundings, then there might be a connection between their mental state and the time of year.
What You Can Do to Help
There are several ways you can assist your loved one in dealing with the winter blues. It takes some time, energy, and focus on your part, but the end results are well worth the effort. Try the following:
- Encourage and include. Because of the nature of seasonal sadness, it can be hard for your loved one to get out into the world. Invite them to a show, out for a shopping trip, or to parties. Encourage them to attend events they've been invited to. Offering them transportation assistance can help make it easier for your older friend or family member to get out and have a good time.
- Be present and helpful. If your loved one is planning an event, then offer to lend a hand, whether it's assisting in cleaning, shopping, or cooking. That extra aid can make it easier on the host and show that someone cares and is thinking about them. It will also offer some much-needed social interaction.
- Suggest volunteering. Getting out and helping others is a good way to combat winter malaise. Volunteering might even help your loved one make friends, find a sense of community, and feel useful. Try contacting local schools and religious organizations to see how your loved one could help.
- Be empathetic and understanding. Sometimes, the sadness just doesn't go away. Offering your loved one a sympathetic ear and respecting their right to feel as they do during winter is important to their well-being. Sharing their feelings may also offer them a sense of catharsis, allowing the grief, old memories, and concerns to be aired out and accepted, which can help in healing.
Keep in mind that it's very possible your loved one's seemingly seasonal sadness may have deeper roots, such as a diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, dementia, or poor diet and health. If your loved one continues to or routinely expresses symptoms of sadness, you may need to consider pushing them to see a health professional about their condition. Helping your loved one become healthier and happier could be the most important thing you do for them this winter.