5 Tips for Seniors to Stay Mentally Healthy Through the Cold Winter Months



For more information about the author, click to view their website: Visiting Angels Wayzata

Posted on

Jul 27, 2023


Minnesota - Twin Cities Metro Area

Share This

If you live in the upper Midwest, you’re no stranger to the harsh reality that comes with the change from fall to winter. The sun sets before 5:00. The bitter cold stings your lungs as you step outside. Huge amounts of snowfall can make venturing out of your home quite a challenge. Winter months bring increased safety concerns, especially for older adults in our area. Seniors face high susceptibility to developing depression due to isolation. There are more concerns with dangerous temperatures, keeping them isolated inside.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),  typically develops late fall through spring/summer. SAD is a specific type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons and affects millions in the US.  Symptoms can include anxiety, poor appetite, and social withdrawal, among others. When you compound these symptoms with factors such as loss, declining health or mobility challenges, mental health is at risk. Oftentimes seniors live alone, with limited resources.  This can leave them isolated and unaccompanied for months at a time.

Isolation is one of the leading causes of depression for the elderly population. They don't have anywhere to go, so options to get out of the house are limited. When families live miles away, visitors can be few, leading to limited socialization.  This, combined with cold Minnesota winters, leave many seniors feeling lonesome and distraught. It is imperative that we check in on our senior loved ones during these times. Help them find ways to cope with the winter blues. Encourage them to find ways to stay mentally and physically active, and to find joy in each day. Here are 5 easy tips to help our elderly community navigate this challenging season. 

1. Maintain a Balanced Diet

A healthy diet can have a profound effect on mental health. If done consistently, it will provide a natural mood and energy boost that is  easy to obtain. The required amount of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals changes as we age.  It becomes even more important to get the right amounts of what our body needs. One key nutrient is Vitamin D. Limited daylight and less time in the sun reduce the amount of Vitamin D we absorb. Supplements are an option to combat this deficiency, but real, healthy food is best. Eating fatty fish (like salmon), mushrooms, eggs, some cheeses, and a limited amount of fortified cereals, milk or yogurt is a great Vitamin D source. A consistent, balanced, and colorful diet boosts your mood and can help prevent sickness and injury. Be sure to check with your physician before making any changes to your diet if you are taking prescription medications or have other illnesses.

If you have a home care service, ask your caregiver to develop a balanced meal plan and prepare meals with you. This will ensure you’re set up for success.  It takes the burden of the work off of you, with the added benefit of personal companionship. At Visiting Angels®, our caregivers are here to help find a diet that works for you. We can take care of your grocery shopping, meal planning, and preparation so you don’t have to do it on your own. If you would like more information, contact us and we will answer any questions you may have, or check out our FAQ page for insight as well.

2. Seek Out the Sun

If Mother Nature doesn’t allow you to be outside, try to spend a majority of your day in the brightest areas of your home. Open your blinds and sit in the sun with a good book; bask in the warmth and daydream about warmer days to come.

Another option is to try artificial light therapy (aka bright light therapy) using a light box. A light box mimics outdoor light. Some believe it can cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD.  Even 30 minutes a day can make up for the lack of sunlight during the dreary winter months. Though this isn’t the best method for getting sunlight, it is an effective alternative. The National Institutes of Health have shown that light therapy can ease seasonal depression symptoms by as much as 70%. You can find lightboxes online at a range of sizes and prices to suit your needs. As with any changes to your health routine, it is best to talk with your healthcare provider about choosing and using a light box. If you're experiencing SAD and bipolar disorder, the advisability and timing of using a light box should be carefully reviewed with your healthcare provider.

3. Exercise the Mind

We know that exercise is important for the physical body. Mental exercise is also important for an active, healthy brain, especially as we age. Our brain changes over time.  These changes can cause cognitive decline and will influence our mental state. Engaging in daily mental exercise will keep the mind alert and sharp, and helps seniors to remain independent. In order for the brain to work at its best, you should challenge the mind, in some way, every day. Thankfully, exercising the mind can be fun and there are a variety of options for everyone. Enjoy reading? Find a good book and read by the fire or in the sun - a great way to get your mind active and soak up Vitamin D at the same time! A word puzzle such as a word finds or crossword puzzle, will keep the brain engaged. You don't need to figure out every answer, your brain gets a workout either way. Logic puzzles are another great mental exercise as they allow for lateral thinking.  This type of puzzle engages pathways that often have gone dormant after retirement. Logic requires you to use given information to come up with an answer to a specific problem. 

Not into word games? Take out a jigsaw puzzle. Assembling puzzles can help reduce blood pressure and slow respiration rates. This mental exercise becomes a form of meditation and relaxation. What a great bonus for seniors with busy minds!  Jigsaw puzzles are great for cold, blustery afternoons.  Turn on your favorite music, put on your comfy clothes, and enjoy the challenge.

4. Get Moving

Physical activity is an important piece of a healthy body. In the winter months, exercise can be key in improving one’s mood. It has also been shown to prolong memory loss and cognitive decline, like mental exercise.   A great option for older adults to get low-impact exercise is through yoga. Yoga's progression of fluid movement and stretching helps joint movement as well as increased blood flow to the entire body. Daily physical activity will fight off the winter blues by raising your heart rate. It will improve both immediate and long term mental and physical health.  Taking a walk isn't always possible. You may not have access to exercise machines or a swimming pool, turn up the tunes and get a couple chores done. You will get your daily exercise in and also feel a sense of accomplishment.

For those who have mobility challenges, there are options. Some simple, low-impact exercises can be done from a seated position. These movements will help reduce joint pain and improve your overall strength.

At a minimum, seniors should strive to get 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times per week.

5. Socialize

Seniors who maintain social connections report having improved mental health. Face-to-face connection with another adult can be the highlight of someone’s day. It is the perfect remedy for loneliness or despair on a gloomy day.  Not sure how or where to engage? Seek out an exercise class. Pick up the phone and call a friend or family member. Attend a social activity at your local senior center or within your living facility. If you have access to technology, use it as a way to stay connected with others. Video chat can be a great way to be face-to-face with family and friends, especially those who live far away. The smiling faces of your children and/or grandchildren can brighten your day any time of year! 

If you thrive on the physical presence of others, consider hiring a  caregiver. Having someone to help make meals, share stories, or be available for stand-by assistance can bring peace of mind and happier days. Visiting Angels®  provides a flexible schedule and trained, compassionate caregivers to keep you safe and happy through the winter months.

The winter blues are a common struggle in the upper Midwest. If you or someone you love suffer from SAD or struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation, Visiting Angels - West Metro is here to help. Our caregivers strive to help you remain in your home, where you are comfortable and feel the most secure. The companionship and personal assistance from a caregiver help to keep you safe.  Contact us today or give us a call at 952-935-0789 to set up a free, no obligation consultation. Seek out other local resources as well - most communities offer support groups, activities , and ways to stay connected. 

Other Articles You May Like

Caring for a Loved One With Aphasia

Caring for a Loved One With AphasiaOur ability to communicate with others is something most of us take for granted on a daily basis. From small interactions, like asking someone to pass the salt, to more extensive conversations about complicated feelings, the ability to verbally communicate our wants and needs is a large part of the human experience.Aphasia, however, occurs when someone loses their ability to communicate due to damage to the part of the brain that impacts language.What Is Aphasia?Aphasia can result from a trauma to the brain, such as a stroke, head injury, tumor, or even an infection. It impacts all modes of language including speech, writing, gesticulating and comprehension. Aphasia impacts roughly 2 million people in the United States, and an estimated 180,000 cases are diagnosed each year. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia, and as a result, older people are the most affected by aphasia.If you are caring for a loved one with aphasia, you may feel frustrated and overwhelmed at times. This may be especially true during the early stages of a diagnosis, but tapping into the tips listed below can help guide you through this new reality with patience and grace.Expand Your ToolboxBy learning more about aphasia and the limitations your loved one is experiencing, you can begin to alter your behavior and expectations. Once you have a better understanding of the brain and how aphasia impacts communication skills, you can learn some new techniques and strategies for how to communicate with your loved one, including facilitative conversations. For example, according to APTUS Speech Therapy, the temptation to fill all the silences, and to ask a question when they already know the answer (a test question) can serve as a barrier to communication instead of a facilitator. Instead, the company recommends leaving space to talk, prompting writing or gesture, and offering comments instead of test questions.Limit DistractionsIf you or your loved one are used to having background noise on in the home, such as television or radio, turning it off in order to reduce distractions while trying to communicate can also help improve the experience for both of you. Providing your loved one with your undivided attention is an ideal way to try to connect with themthis is a good piece of advice both when loved ones are able to communicate clearly and when they are struggling with language after an aphasia diagnosis.Take Advantage of Nonverbal CommunicationLingraphica, a technology company that creates devices to help improve speech impairments after a stroke or brain injury, encourages caregivers to use a pen and paper or dry erase board to help bolster communication with loved ones. Its not uncommon for someone living with aphasia to know the first letter of the word they want to use, so having something nearby that they can write on provides a jumping-off point for them to communicate their thoughts. The benefit, as the company describes it, is that as you draw and write, you can end up with a complete story at the end of the conversation.Practice Self-CareNo matter your loved ones condition, as their caregiver, its important to replenish your own energy throughout your caregiving journey. The best way to do this is to make time for yourself. Whether that means you make time every day to listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook, exercise, talk with a friend, meditate, or simply take a bubble bath, doing something kind for yourself isnt selfishits a necessity.Bring in a ProfessionalThere are a variety of resources you can tap into when you are feeling overwhelmed about caring for your loved one with aphasia. From bringing in a professional speech language pathologist to work with you and your loved one on tools and techniques for improved communication, to hiring a professional caregiver to provide you with some respite from your caregiving duties, knowing that you are not alone on this journey can make all the difference.  Hillary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50 and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.For home care assistance, call Right at Home located in Daphne and Mobile, Alabama.

Will Medicare Pay for a Walk-In Tub?

Unfortunately for seniors, Medicare does not typically pay for a walk-in tub. The program covers products considered to be durable medical equipment, i.e., durable equipment or devices that are medically required by a doctor to be used in the home and not typically useful to someone who isnt sick or disabled. Because walk-in tubs are not classified in this way, Medicare usually will not cover them.The upside is there are alternative finance options to purchase a walk-in tub. Learn if you may qualify for financial assistance through one of the programs, plans or grants listed below.Other Financial Assistance Options:MEDICARE FOR WALK-IN TUBSIn rare situations, original Medicare may make an exception and cover the cost of a walk-in tub. However, youd receive a reimbursement instead of an upfront payment. This means there is no guarantee that original Medicare would offer financial assistance until after you paid out of pocket and submitted a claim.To submit a claim, you have to prove the walk-in tub was an absolute medical necessity through a written medical diagnosis made by a doctor, which would include the reasons for why its needed and any essential features specific to a brand.  If you choose to go this route, you should be prepared to pay the full cost of the walk-in tub and additional installation costs, or seek other financial assistance.MEDICARE ADVANTAGE (MA) PLANSGetting original Medicare to pay for a walk-in tub is often a hassle and rarely delivers the outcome you want. Your best chance of receiving financial assistance through Medicare is with Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, or Plan C, which enables private insurance companies to contract with Medicare. Due to an expansion of health-related supplemental benefits in 2019, some MA plans will cover the cost of a walk-in tub.Not all MA plans are alike, so its important you talk to your plans representative about the types of benefits they offer. To learn more about your specific coverage, contact Medicare.MEDICAID FOR WALK-IN TUBSCompared to Medicare Advantage plans, Medicaid is more likely to pay for a walk-in tub. Because each state offers several different Medicaid programs, there is no universal rule governing its policy on home modifications. Contact your representative to confirm if your plan covers the cost of a walk-in tub.HOME AND COMMUNITY-BASED SERVICES (HCBS)You should also consider Medicaids Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Waiver program. This program enables those with significant physical and cognitive limitations to receive services in their own home or community. Depending on which state you live, an HCBS waiver may pay for specialized medical equipment and environmental accessibility modifications, which can include the purchase and installation of a walk in tub.To determine if your states Medicaid waivers will pay for a walk in tub, contact the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS). Veterans Benefits for Walk-In TubsThe Department of Veterans Affairs offers several programs that provide financial assistance for the purchase and installation of a walk in tub. Read on to learn if one of these options is right for you.HOME MODIFICATION GRANTSDisabled veterans who are eligible may apply for grants to install home modifications that support disabilities related to their military service or resulting from aging. The two grants include:Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) GrantSpecial Home Adaptation (SHA) GrantVETERANS DIRECTED HOME AND COMMUNITY BASED SERVICES (VD-HCBS)This program is modeled after Medicaids HCBS Waiver program. Participants receive a set budget to spend at their discretion on care services and supplies they elect as a medical necessity. As such, veterans may use a portion of the funds to purchase and install a walk-in tub or shower.VA AID AND ATTENDANCE, HOUSEBOUND AND OTHER PENSIONSThese pensions offer greater freedom to decide how the allowance is spent. With the only stipulation that it be used for the care of the beneficiary, a walk-in tub is an appropriate expense. The cost of a walk-in tub can also be considered an unreimbursed medical expense, which means it can be deducted from a veterans income. In turn, the veterans pension benefit will increase in the amount of the deduction, essentially covering the cost of the tub.  To learn more about veterans benefits, please contact your regional VA office or check out our blog.Grants for Walk-In TubsThe Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Loans and Grants for Seniors is a housing repair program offered by the US Department of Agriculture. This program assists seniors living on a low income in rural areas by offering grants that can cover home repairs, improvements or modifications to their home. It also applies to home modifications and accessibility features that eliminate health and safety hazards, including the cost of a walk-in tub.  You can begin the application process by contacting your local USDA service center.Financing Plans for Walk-In TubsAccessible bathing is an important investment to help you continue living in the home you love. At KOHLER, we are committed to offering walk-in tubs that blend the best in safety, comfort and affordability. We offer financing plans for all walkin baths as well as monthly offers to make the bath even more affordable.  Plus, we promise to give you the exact cost down to the penny during your consultation, so there are no surprise fees or hidden costs on installation day. You can also learn more about what goes into the total cost of the Walk-In Bath by exploring our Price Guide. Contact your local KOHLER Authorized Dealer to schedule a free in-home quote today.   Youre on your way to a safer, more comfortable bathing experience. Contact the individual programs and departments to see if you may qualify to receive financial assistance for a walk-in tub. You can also contact your local KOHLER Authorized Dealer for more information at (800) 707-5276.

The Lumin - A 60 Unit Affordable Housing Community for Seniors 62+

At CommonBond, we serve people of all ages young people, families, veterans, and older adults. Our belief is that everyone deserves the foundation of a home.  However, it is impossible to ignore the increasing demand for affordable senior housing in our communities. The Lumin a 60-unit affordable housing development for seniors ages 62 and older is helping to meet this need.The Lumin is the first of 10 planned affordable rental developments at Highland Bridge, a 122-acre parcel of land in the Highland Park neighborhood in Saint Paul. The building opened in November 2023, and residents began moving into their new homes. Older adults face a unique set of challenges such as growing health concerns, caregiving needs, isolation, and so much more. Increased physical and mental health challenges mean greater costs, therefore amplifying the need for affordable housing as folks age.  Not only that, but the increasingly high cost of living becomes even more difficult to manage for seniors who are retired and living on a fixed income. This means older adults must make tough decisions about how to pay for basic needs like food, health care, and housing.  According to a 2023 Harvard Study, Nearly 11.2 million older adult households were cost burdened in 2021, an all-time high and a significant increase from the 9.7 million and 8.8. million recorded in 2016 and 2011, respectively. When folks are cost burdened, it means they pay more than 30% of their income for housing.*Across CommonBond, the average resident income for seniors 55 and older is $18,062. Compare that to $59,428, the average annual salary across the United States as of 2024 (forbes.com)*. The need for affordable senior housing in our communities is loud and clear, and CommonBond is proud to provide The Lumin as a deliberate effort to answer this call.Located at the intersection of Cretin and Bohland avenues, the building includes a community room, a wellness room, and bike storage. There will also be an Advantage Services Coordinator to provide services and programming for residents, including those in the seven units dedicated for seniors who have experienced homelessness.We are pleased to offer affordable homes for seniors in the Highland Park neighborhood. Thank you to Minnesota Housing, the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, the Saint Paul Public Housing Agency, Enterprise Community Partners, LHB Architects, and Ryan Companies, who helped make The Lumin possible!*Housing Americas Older Adults 2023 Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University*forbes.com/advisor/business/average-salary-by-state