After the holidays pass and the cold weather really sets in, winters (especially in the northern parts of the country) can feel very long, bleak, and lonely. Cold, raw weather and waning daylight is a tough combo that affects even those with the sunniest of dispositions. Beating the winter blues can be especially challenging for seniors if they don’t feel like they have a strong community connection.
Studies have shown that feelings of isolation and loneliness put adults aged 50 and older at health risks similar to those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. In fact, social isolation has been associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia. A lack of social activities can result in a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
But there’s good news: isolation and loneliness are problems that can be solved with a little planning and added effort. Engagement programs in particular, such as those offered in senior living communities or at local senior centers, can be incredibly effective in warding off loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Engagement programs specifically customized for seniors can help in a multitude of ways:
- Culinary arts such as baking can exercise fine motor skills, and add some variety to seniors’ diets.
- Book clubs can help seniors connect over shared experiences and feelings, or at least stimulate great conversation.
- Organized outings with a driver, such as visits to local parks, can help seniors – safely – get fresh air and sunshine.
- Trivia nights or even simply working on puzzles can provide great mental stimulation and a healthy dose of friendly competition.
- Physical activities are of course important, and low-impact options like walking and chair yoga can be surprisingly effective.
- Team games like “hallway bowling” are a great way to build camaraderie, and get seniors up and moving and having fun.
- Cozy movie nights can give a wonderful sense of togetherness, even on the coldest or stormiest of nights.
Feeling comfortable and cared for is important to all of us, at every age. Attention, assistance, and connection can make all the difference for our seniors’ health and attitudes in the long winter months. Consider the options available to keep your loved one’s spirit and health on the up-and-up. Remember, even wintertime flies when you’re having fun!