Williamsburg, Va – It's winter. Colder. Darker. And despite the excitement of the holiday season most families just celebrated, for older adults and their caregivers, all of these factors can easily result in "caregivers and care providers feeling more isolated from friends and activities they enjoy," said Christine J. Jensen.

Jensen, who earned her PhD in Human Development and Family Studies, is the Director of Community and Health Services Research at Riverside Health System's Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH).

Based in Williamsburg, CEALH, among other geriatric services and research, provides education and support for family and professional caregivers. 

"This sadness generally dissipates in the spring as daylight increases, but it can make getting through the winter months more difficult," Jensen said, offering tips for making it through those winter months smoother.

Caregivers should find ways to get respite.

The isolation caregivers sometime feel "becomes magnified during the winter months when it is less desirable to leave home," Jensen said. "Most all of us want to feel connected to others. If caregivers start feeling like they are missing out on things they enjoy, they need to consider ways they can get a respite from their caregiving duties and meet friends out for lunch."

There are a number of agencies that offer respite, including some that provide volunteers at no charge.

Take your mind somewhere else.

Like to play tennis? Play it on a videogame. Read the books you had hoped to get to. Listen to music. Watch television. Use this as your excuse to spend time on Facebook and catch up with old friends.

Know your resources.

There are a number of websites that not only provide information and resources to caregivers, but also help caregivers connect to one another. Look into Riverside's Senior Care Navigation, the Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Family Caregivers Association.

Include the person you are caring for in decisions about their care.

"It is key that the care receiver be included in the decisions about their care, their activities, and their living environment," Jensen said, explaining that it's one way to help alleviate tensions between caregiver and receiver.

"This isn't always easy to do when caregivers tend to think they know what is best and in many cases, they do have the very best interests of their loved one at heart."

Make little changes around your home to lighten the literal and metaphorical darkness of winter.

Open curtains. Let in daylight. Keep photos easily in view. Even if for only 10 minutes, go for a brisk walk.

"And remember," Jensen said, "the time (and season) changes again soon."

Learn more about caring for older adults at Riverside CEALH at www.excellenceinaging.org.

Published: January 15, 2013