Tips to help elderly loved ones beat the winter blues

Photo credit: Unsplash/Andrey Bond

How to help older people stay mentally well in winter

Winter can be a difficult time for many people. Various factors - such as the reduced daylight hours, inclement weather and feeling disconnected from the festive spirit so many other people seem to be enjoying at Christmas - can combine to create feelings of sadness and depression that can be very hard to deal with.

This has become more widely recognised in recent times, to the extent that it has been given a specific name: seasonal affective disorder.

If you have an elderly loved one who seems to be struggling with low moods and their general mental wellbeing during the winter months, you might be wondering about what you can do to support them.

To help people deal with this issue, Age UK has passed on some tips from the mental health charity Mind, which could be particularly useful for friends and family of older people who are finding things hard at this time of year.

Be proactive in offering support

It's important to be proactive and to tell elderly friends and relatives that you're thinking about them and you care about them, rather than assuming they already know it, or waiting for them to come to you when they're feeling down.

Some people might not want to vocalise how they're feeling - particularly those from a generation where talking about your emotions wasn't as normal and accepted as it is today - but you should still make the effort to ask how they are and to be ready to listen when they want to talk.

Make it clear you're there to help

Different people will deal with their low moods and feelings of sadness or loneliness in different ways. For some, a simple phone call and a chat about everyday things will be enough to perk them up, while others will appreciate you offering to help them with practical tasks that are causing them to feel anxious, such as shopping or running errands.

Telling the person that you're there and willing to help in any way they want could make a big difference to their mental outlook and wellbeing.

Don't judge

Something that seems trivial and unimportant to you could be a source of major anxiety or distress to an elderly person, especially if they're living with dementia or other health conditions.

With this in mind, make sure you go into every conversation or meeting with them in an open-minded way. Let them express what's bothering them and, rather than passing judgement or dismissing their concerns, focus on listening and suggesting positive changes that might help them.

Look after yourself

Supporting an elderly loved one who is struggling with their mental health isn't easy, so make sure you're looking after yourself as well.

That means not taking on more responsibility than you can handle and, if possible, sharing the role with other friends and family members.

The winter months can be challenging - mentally and physically - for older people, so what can you do to help them through it?