Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna: How Can I Help Prevent the “Winter Blues”?

Dear Donna:

My mom has always looked forward to the holiday season, but this year, she doesn’t seem to have her usual enthusiasm.

 She is sleeping more and is less interested in her favorite holiday activities. What can I do to help her prevent the winter blues?

Kelly in Traverse City


Take Steps to Prevent the Winter Blues


Dear Kelly,

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” is a common form of depression among people in colder climates. Symptoms include low energy, overeating, sleeping more, and less interest in social activities.

There are many ways to help your mother feel better this season.

Eat a balanced diet to improve mood.


Many people with SAD indulge in carbohydrates and other “comfort” foods. This can cause weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and cardiovascular risks.

Help your mom choose more vegetables, fruits, and lean protein, and avoid snacks with refined sugars or sodium. Look for sources of vitamin D, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, which may help with symptoms of SAD.

Physical activity improves overall well-being.


Research shows that staying active can improve cardiovascular health, maintain weight, and keep blood sugar levels stable. Physical activity has also been found to improve mood and memory among seniors.

If your mom has trouble getting around, she can start small. Just walking around the house, lifting light weights, or doing easy stretches can help.

Fitness centers and YMCAs have many low-impact options like walking tracks, treadmills, or swimming pools. An active video game, such as Wii bowling, is another way to get moving.

Try light therapy to reduce the winter blues.


Many people experience SAD because limited exposure to natural daylight during winter months can cause sleep disruptions and changes in brain chemicals. Special “light boxes” that imitate outdoor light may help.


Do some research to determine which type of light box is best for you. You may wish to speak to your doctor, especially an eye doctor, before making a purchase.

Stay connected to stay happy this winter.


Even if your mom doesn’t feel like socializing – a common symptom of depression – a small get-together with friends or family can make a big difference.

Encourage her to have coffee with a neighbor or invite family members over for the holidays. Joining a local group, such as a book club, also can prevent feelings of isolation.


Talk to a health care professional about seasonal depression.


If your mom is showing symptoms of SAD, it can help to see a doctor.

A healthcare provider may order tests to rule out problems such as anemia or hypothyroidism. He or she can also help determine the best treatment and prescribe medication if necessary.

As a caregiver, help is available to you!


Overwhelmed with the responsibilities of caregiving? Heritage Senior Communities offers short-term options for seniors who need some type of assistance.

We provide a variety of lifestyle options that help our residents ward off the winter blues. Communal dining, physical activities, and medication assistance are just a few of the amenities we offer. Contact us today to learn more about our senior living options!


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How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

How to Prevent a Senior From Getting the Holiday Blues

Dear Donna,

With the holiday season quickly approaching, I have what some people might think is a strange question. Last year, around mid-December, I noticed that my Mom seemed to be feeling down a lot.

She’s 80, and I’m wondering if she was feeling a touch of the holiday blues. I’ve heard of this, but I’m not sure what causes it. I’d like to keep this from happening again. What can I do to keep her spirits up this holiday season?

Thank you,

Beth in Grand Rapids

The Holiday Blues and Older Adults

Dear Beth,

Thank you for asking this question. It’s not a strange one at all!

Mental health is an important issue this time of year, and you’re very perceptive for wondering about your mom’s frame of mind. Here are a few reasons why she may be feeling down, plus some suggestions about how you can help.

Commons Reasons Seniors Develop the Holiday Blues

  1. Long Distance Family

We all like to think this is the ‘season of joy’ but not everyone experiences the season in quite the same way. For some seniors, the holidays can actually bring sadness—especially if their children and grandchildren live far away.

From your letter, it sounds like your mom lives near you in Grand Rapids. Are there other family members, perhaps outside of Michigan, that she yearns to see? Can you arrange for them to visit during the holidays?

  1. Loss of Significant Other or Others They Hold Dear

Even seniors who are surrounded by family members all year long can still suffer sadness. One reason is they may be facing their first holiday season without their spouse. Many have lost friends or other family members, and the holiday season can highlight their absence, too.

Has your mom recently lost someone dear to her? If so, there’s no denying the sadness she may be feeling. You can help by being there for her. If and when she wants to talk, be a good listener. Encourage her to express her feelings to you at any time. Check in with her every day and let her know that you care.

  1. Thoughts of Better (Healthier) Times

This season triggers memories of past holiday celebrations in all of us. For older adults, those memories may only heighten their awareness of aging. Some older adults get the holiday blues because they’re mourning the loss of their own mobility or other physical capabilities.

Has your mom been experiencing health issues? Is she frail or experiencing a loss of appetite?

If you think the symptoms of aging might be causing her holiday sadness, try to plan some fun outings in the upcoming weeks. How about a spa day? Museums or a show? Holiday shopping? Be sure to plan outings that are manageable day for her.

Distracting her from any health issues she may have can help improve her mental well-being. Plus, proving that she can still get out of the house and have fun–despite her health issues–should help lift her spirits.

  1. Set Aside Lots of Time Together

Finally, some people find that the cure-all for many issues is spending quality time together. For your mother, any loss that she’s experienced can spark strong emotions. It doesn’t matter if the loss is a spouse, a friend, a pet, or the ability to dig in her garden.

If she’s like a lot of people, she may feel those losses more deeply during the holidays. Facing those emotions all at once during what’s supposed to be a joyous season is enough to bring on the blues in anyone.

Spend quality time with your mother so she doesn’t have to face all those emotions alone. Ask her for help with holiday prep activities, make her feel needed and included, and most of all, show your love in a variety of ways.

Beth, I hope this has helped you to understand your mom a little better. May you and your mother have a blessed holiday season, from everyone here at Heritage Senior Living.


Heritage Senior Living Communities Invites Your Questions

Beth’s question raised a lot of important issues and we are glad we could help shed some light on her mom’s situation.

Do you have a question for Donna?

Send it our way and we’ll make sure she gets it.

Sticking to a Restricted Diet During the Holiday Season

Sticking to a Restricted Diet During the Holiday Season

‘Tis the season of delicious food and holiday treats. Starting with that nice big Thanksgiving turkey and continuing through the remainder of the year with cookies, pie, eggnog, and more. It always seems that no celebration is free from enticing foods. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, seniors on a restricted diet face one temptation after another.

But the good news is, there are ways to both enjoy the season and stick to your nutrition plan.

Tips for Sticking to Your Restricted Diet

Here are some tips for staying on track with your diet, whether it’s low sodium, diabetes-friendly or a heart-healthy one.

  1. Look for Lean Sources of Protein at Special Dinners

Older Americans need to ensure that they are getting enough protein in their diets. However, like everyone else, seniors should take care not to eat too much fat.  Thanksgiving turkey is a good source of lean protein, but only if you opt for skinless pieces.

Traditional beef dinners for Christmas can be good options as well, but be sure to trim off any fat that remains after cooking. Another reason to eat red meat is that it’s a good source of iron and older Americans are often at greater risk of developing anemia.

  1. Use Herbs & Spices or Lemon Juice Instead of Salt

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may have put you on a low-sodium diet. Instead of saying, ‘please pass the salt,’ try asking your hostess if she has spices or lemon juice on hand. Herbs and spices can work wonders on vegetables and meat without adding sodium to your meal.

  1. Minimize Your Indulgence of Sweet Treats

If you are diabetic, you already know about all the dietary trouble makers that lurk between Halloween and the New Year. You don’t have to say ‘no’ to absolutely everything.

Keep an eye on portion size. Most sweets are very high in calories. If you’re set on sampling that pumpkin pie, do some substitution with other carbs. For example, pass on the sweet potatoes so you can enjoy a small slice of pie.

Think about how you will say ‘no’ to sweets. To ease the social pressure to try everything, it may help to plan how you’ll politely decline. Phrases as simple as, “No thank you” or “It looks delicious but I’m still full from dinner” can do the trick without hurting your host’s feelings.

Brighten the Holidays by Staying Healthy

If you’re thinking of altering your diet, it’s always best to talk to your doctor first. They’ll be the first to tell you sticking to your restricted diet takes effort, especially during this festive season.

Heritage Senior Living Communities make it easy to eat healthy during the holidays and year-round. Find out about our Heritage Hospitality dining program by contacting us any time!

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

How to Safely Include a Senior with Dementia in Your Holiday Celebrations

One of the nicest things about the holiday season is the many opportunities we have for celebrating with friends and family. Between all the parties and family get-togethers, it’s traditionally a very social time of year. Naturally, you want to include everyone in the festivities.

For people who have a loved one with dementia, the holidays can be a bit more challenging.

You have to think about their comfort and safety, and you want everyone to have a good time. With a few considerations, you can still have a joyous season where everyone gets involved in the holiday fun.

Three Safe Ways to Include a Senior With Dementia in Your Celebrations

All it takes is a little forethought, and you can plan events that are fun and festive for everyone.

  1. Include Your Senior Loved One in Holiday Cooking

During the holidays, the air is full of familiar scents like turkey roasting or cookies baking in the oven. Just having your loved one around while you’re cooking can be a good way to include them. The familiar, comforting cooking aromas may spark pleasant memories of holiday celebrations from their past. There’s a name for when that happens: sense memory.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s the idea that our five senses play an important role in creating memories. Recalling certain parts of the past may be difficult for someone who has dementia but tapping into sense memory may be easier.

That’s especially important to remember during this time of year when there’s plenty of opportunity for using the senses to engage your loved one. Although memories can be triggered by any of the five senses, the strongest connections are made between smell and memory. The olfactory bulb, which handles scent, is located next to the part of the brain that’s responsible for our memories.

  1. Involve Them in Holiday Preparations

If they’re able, your senior loved one could even help with the baking. That way, they can feel they’ve played a role in the holiday preparations.

In fact, there are lots of ways to weave purposeful activities into holiday celebrations with your loved one. Even if it’s something as simple as hanging decorations on a tree or placing non-breakable decorations around the house, helping may make your loved one feel useful and more involved.

But we want to caution you about holiday decorations and adults with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends avoiding using blinking lights. These have been known to cause confusion and anxiety in people who have dementia.

  1. Read Holiday Stories Together

Reading aloud to people who have dementia has been found to be therapeutic in many instances. During the holidays, it can be a powerful way to engage them in the spirit of the season.

This works especially well if you have children in your family. For your senior loved one, hearing traditional stories read aloud may not only evoke fond memories but it may also ease feelings of stress.

Celebrating the Holidays at Heritage Senior Living Communities

Heritage Senior Communities is a family-owned company. We know about the importance of family bonds and celebrations throughout the year, not just the holidays. It’s part of living a full, satisfying life.

For our residents with dementia, we have The Terrace–a space that’s 100 percent dedicated to improving their quality of life.

If you’d like to know more about specialized dementia care at The Terrace, we invite you to call us any time!

Tips to Avoid the Holiday Blues When You are a Family Caregiver

Tips to Avoid the Holiday Blues When You are a Family Caregiver

Judging from movies, TV commercials and the lyrics to popular carols, there’s no happier time than the holidays. The season is filled with nonstop cheer as people attend parties, create wonderful memories, and experience a generosity of spirit and goodwill that exists no other time of year.

However, some experts—and many caregivers—paint a different picture. While it’s definitely a joyful time of year, it is not unusual for caregivers to experience a bout of the holiday blues.

Family Caregivers are Especially Vulnerable to the Holiday Blues

Family caregivers are already some of America’s overworked people. For those who care for a spouse or a partner, an average of almost 45 hours per week is spent providing unpaid care. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job!

The work they perform is vital but it can cause caregivers to feel overwhelmed with their daily responsibilities. When the holiday season starts up and those responsibilities multiply, the added stress can cause anxiety or depression… otherwise known as ‘the holiday blues’.

Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Blues

If you’re a family caregiver, you’ll be glad to know that there are ways to reduce the chances of feeling down during the holiday season. Here are five steps you can take.

  1. Acknowledge Your Emotions

First, you can’t combat the holiday blues if you’re not mindful of your own emotions. Family caregivers may experience a range of feelings during the holidays, including sadness, fear and frustration. Be open and honest with yourself and admit the emotions you’re feeling.

  1. Know the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

As a family caregiver, you’re already giving much of yourself to your role. During the holidays, you’re apt to try and give even more—cooking, entertaining, and shopping. Don’t let the stress build to a point where you become vulnerable to burnout. The signs include low energy, emotional and physical exhaustion, or a feeling of mental ‘numbness.’

  1. Make Time for Yourself

No matter how hectic your schedule becomes, try and carve out some time for a bit of light to moderate physical exercise. Yoga, walking, dancing, or anything that gets your heart rate up just a bit will improve your mood and reduce stress levels. If you’re starting a new exercise routine, be sure and check with your doctor first.

  1. Stay in the Moment

One way to stay balanced is to keep your mind in the moment.

Concentrate on the task at hand and try not to let your mind wander. Stay positive and focus on all that you’re able to accomplish, letting go of what you can’t control or are unable to do.

  1. Find Your Stress Reliever

Each of us has our own way of relieving stress. Only you know what works for you, so find your stress busters and use them.

Heritage Senior Communities Supports Caregivers All Year ‘Round

Many people feel blue during the holidays, but family caregivers are especially in need of support this time of year. One final tip is to ask for help. From the online resources we provide to respite care services designed to give families a break, there are a number of ways we stand behind caregivers like you.

If you’d like to learn more about short-term stays or respite care, please call us today.