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How to Make Darkness Your Friend: Helping Seniors Embrace the Winter Months

home caregiving, seniors, preventing loneliness

Home caregivers know from experience that the cold winter months can be extra challenging for seniors and people with disabilities. Colder temperatures and less sunlight exacerbate health symptoms, increase the risk for seasonal affective disorder, and induce feelings of loneliness. Since the month of December contains the longest night of the year, it’s a good time to learn how to make darkness your friend instead of something to be dreaded. The long nights and short days don’t need to lead to loneliness and depression, if approached in a way that is positive and resourceful.

The importance of preventing loneliness in seniors is not something to ignore. A number of studies found that socially isolated individuals were at as much as a 30% greater risk of dying within seven years, with the effect peaking in middle age. Loneliness correlates with increased risk of heart disease, accelerated cognitive decline, depression, decreased immune response, inflammation, increases in stress and atypical hormone levels, and disruptions in sleep patterns. By the numbers, social isolation is as dangerous as smoking or obesity, especially for seniors.

How to Make Darkness Your Friend

Rather than approaching the winter months as something to be dreaded or a problem to be solved, it may help to instead view winter months as a time of celebration and reflection. The following ideas are ways to prevent loneliness in seniors, treat seasonal affective disorder, and soothe symptoms that have flared up due to cold temperatures. However, if you’re a home caregiver noticing something concerning about the health of your clients, remember that it is always important to notify a medical professional.

Embrace Shadows

Darkness can be scary for seniors who have conditions like dementia. Treating darkness like a friend instead of an enemy can lighten the mood. Dark winter months are an opportunity to play with shadows, especially around the holidays. Ornaments and decorations can be purchased or made that cast beautiful shadows on the wall. Silly games like making shadow puppets can be easy ways to incite laughter. There are also films and books that explore the friendly nature of shadows. Showing seniors that shadows and darkness are elements that can be playful and fun can help minimize fear around them.

Play with Light

The other side of darkness is an opportunity to play with light. During the holidays, lighting a menorah, stringing up Christmas lights, or lighting Solstice candles are just a few ways to introduce light into a dark space. Rather than chasing away darkness, frame the narrative as a way to create light. These are activities that seniors can participate in, so it is also a way to create a fun, indoor activity when it is too cold to go outside.

Get into the Holiday Spirit

During the month of December in particular, there is lots of cheer to be found. While the holiday season can bring up feelings of sadness for seniors who have lost loved ones, it is also a time of celebration and festivities. Home caregivers can ask clients about their holiday traditions and which activities conjure up nostalgia. Simple things like hanging decorations, baking treats, and listening to holiday music are all ways to make the short days feel longer and to brighten the nights.

Take a Cue from Nature

There are certain plants that thrive during cold months. A trip to the local farmers market is a fun way to explore what is in season and to show that life finds a way even during the darkest time of the year. During the winter months, nature also teaches us lessons about letting go, taking rest, and persevering. Bundle up for a nature walk and explore these themes while getting some gentle exercise on the way.

Practice Self-Reflection

Many plants and animals go inwards or hibernate during the winter months, and home caregivers and seniors can choose to do the same. Take the short days and long nights as opportunities to practice self-reflection. Without as many distractions, it’s easier to notice our strengths and weakness. Home caregivers can practice self-reflection and also help seniors practice it, too. Rather than fighting the darkness, turn darkness into your friend and embrace its stillness as a time for hibernation, rest, and reflection.

Express Emotions

There is a lot of talk about positivity these days, but ignoring negative emotions like sadness can take its toll on your health. Mirror the darkness of the winter months by allowing yourself to feel and express emotions of sadness and pain. Home caregivers tend to take on secondary trauma, so this is an opportunity to work through issues that may be eating away at you. It is a good idea to have support when examining some of our darker emotions, so don't be shy about enlisting the help of a coworker, friend, or therapist. Seniors may want to have the opportunity to process their emotions as well. This can be an everyday occurrence with some clients, but it is always good to enlist support if discussing emotions becomes challenging.

Tell Stories

Colder days means more time indoors. This is a chance to tell stories and take trips down memory lane. Journalling, looking through old photo albums, and exchanging stories are all activities that boost cognitive abilities and ease feelings of loneliness. The art of storytelling, especially cozied up next to a fireplace with a warm mug of hot chocolate, is a great way to pass the dark winter days.

The Benefits of Home Care Services

For many adults with aging parents or grandparents, it isn’t practical to handle their needs without assistance. In these cases, home caregivers can offer support with many of the responsibilities. Considering the dangers of loneliness in seniors, it is importance for seniors to have adequate caregiving services, especially during the winter months with its increased risks for conditions like seasonal affective disorder.

If you or someone you love is looking for home care services, please contact Alegre Home Care at one of our Northern California locations. As a local business, we understand our communities and the needs of our clients well. All of our home caregivers receive continual training and offer home care services that are tailored to each person’s unique needs.

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