In lockstep with the winter season’s dropping temperatures comes the potential for snowy or icy conditions, plus a litany of often overlooked negative impacts on seniors’ health and well-being. And with every winter charm, there’s an equally challenging reality for older adults as they navigate this chilly time of year.
Here are several of the most common effects on seniors during the winter months—and how a senior living community does wonders to offset these challenges.
The Risk of Loneliness
People of all ages can be prone to suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as “the winter blues.” And it is very common for older adults to experience feelings of sadness and loneliness during the cold, dark winter months. With fewer opportunities for socialization and connection, there’s a major risk for seniors to struggle with isolation and depression this time of year. While a simple walk in the sun may boost one's mood and energy, this option is not always possible during frigid or unsafe weather conditions.
Combine less daylight with declining temperatures and the dangers of getting out during periods of snow and ice, and you’ve got the perfect storm for seniors to feel cabin fever and other mood depletions. The winter months can be quite lonely and dull for seniors who are cooped up inside.
This is one major area where a senior living community is a game changer. Staying busy indoors and engaged within the community helps seniors avoid boredom and mitigate any depression caused by winter realities. Senior living communities have regular and ongoing opportunities for connection and engagement. From book clubs and crafting activities to game nights and shared meals, there’s a host of touchpoints for keeping seniors’ hands and minds busy, a significant factor for preventing or minimizing loneliness.
It’s a built-in community of neighbors and staff with whom older adults can spend time and share common interests. A senior living community can actually make winter an enjoyable time for seniors—one surrounded by friends and supported by staff for a healthier way of life.
The Onset of Inactivity
Getting exercise and staying active is particularly difficult in winter, for obvious reasons. And this is a tough challenge for seniors who enjoy going outside for walks and participating in outdoor sports or activities. While other months of the year make routine exercise and activity much more accessible, the winter climate severely limits these capabilities. Unfortunately, declining physical activity can have negative outcomes for seniors, impacting body and mind in various ways that are detrimental to overall health.
In a senior living community, however, seniors have ample opportunities to stay active, even when the weather isn’t cooperating. Many of these types of communities offer fun group classes to keep seniors moving, like aerobics, yoga, indoor swimming, and more. All of these offerings are just a few steps away, so there’s no need to go outside or drive anywhere. It’s a highly convenient way for seniors to keep their bodies moving and their spirits high, even as winter’s chill takes hold of the region.
The Emergence of Improper Nutrition
When the wind and cold are nipping at the windows, it’s entirely tempting to give in to cravings for carb and sugar-heavy foods, but seniors in particular must maintain a healthy approach to nutrition. An established diet of canned foods, snacks, and sweets is not nutritious, balanced, or conducive to maintaining mental health during a particularly challenging time of year. In fact, indulging too often can exacerbate feelings of sadness.
For many older adults, proper nutrition is an essential aspect of maintaining independence and aging well. Those managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, must be especially cognizant of their mealtime choices. For others, malnutrition is a risk. This can occur when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients to function properly. That’s why it’s essential to focus on developing a health-conscious meal plan that positively impacts mental and physical health.
When winter weather makes food shopping and healthy choices that much more difficult, residents of a senior living community don’t have to fret about these challenges. There’s easy access to three meals a day and snacks, including healthy options and diet-specific offerings curated by nutrition experts that have seniors’ overall health and well-being in mind.
The Threat of Outdoor Hazards
Seniors are vulnerable to slips and falls throughout the year, given issues like compromised circulation and balance. Winter weather can magnify these problems and pose additional threats. Understanding that a fall can be extremely debilitating for a senior, it’s important to recognize how outdoor hazards make for dangerous conditions. At one’s own home, a senior may be subject to these hazards as they attempt to get out and clear snow from cars or walkways, or simply navigate the space outside as they go about their day.
In a senior living community, residents don’t have to worry about these winter responsibilities. There are staff members on-site to take care of winter upkeep as needed, so there’s no delay if seniors want to get out and about. Without the worries of winter maintenance, seniors can enjoy the snowfall instead of worrying about how the icy weather will impact their daily routine.
The Danger & Discomfort of Illness
Winter is the prime time for cold and flu season, and aging adults are especially susceptible to complications from these types of illnesses. When seniors are out in the cold for extended periods of time, they are more likely to get sick. It’s critical to make choices that are best for one’s overall health.
For this very reason, many make the decision to move to an assisted living community, where they can avoid the hazards of wintertime illnesses. In a warm, clean environment, where they don’t have to go out if they don’t want to, they are less likely to pick up a cold. In addition, there is much more access to experienced health professionals for monitoring and attending to health complications, should any arise. Staff members can help seniors stay up to date on medications and vaccinations, keeping them in the best health possible.
The Difficulty of Travel
Shorter hours of daylight and trickier driving conditions during winter pose serious threats to senior drivers, many of whom have slower reflexes. And for those who are concerned enough about driving in these conditions to avoid it altogether, they may end up homebound and without all the essentials (food, medications, etc.) to accommodate their daily needs. Neither option is a healthy or comfortable way to live.
Many senior living residents appreciate the opportunity to take advantage of their community’s transportation services, especially during winter. With transportation to medical appointments, errands, shopping, activities, and more, there’s less anxiety and risk involved in going about a senior’s daily routine and tending to overall well-being.
To find out how United Methodist Homes provides a wealth of offerings and opportunities to support the health and well-being of our residents, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog.