Q: I am in my seventies, live alone, am healthy and stay active for most of the year. The problem I face is living in a rural area that tends to almost “shut down” every time a heavy snow storm hits. When several days pass without being able to get out of the house I get a little down in the dumps. What can I do to keep my spirits up?
A: Brigham Young University conducted research which indicates prolonged social isolation “is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and more harmful than obesity”. Older adults who become socially isolated suffer higher rates of injuries, depression, cognitive decline and in some instances early death.
You possibly are experiencing the “winter blues” as opposed to the more serious diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Your goal should be to make every effort to remain as engaged as possible even when you are restricted to the confines of your home. A few minutes of physical activity every day can help improve your mood. If you don’t have equipment such as a stationery bike or elliptical machine and have stairs in your home…walk up and down them a couple of times. Turn on the radio, tune into a music channel or plug in a CD and dance, no one is watching so it doesn’t matter what you look like.
Modern technology allows you to have face to face conversations through Skype or video chatting. If you don’t have access to this through a computer pick up the phone and call a friend. It is important to eat healthy meals and stick to a normal sleep routine. If you like to read or enjoy working on puzzles keep a supply on hand for days when you are isolated. Give some thought to projects you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t had the time to tackle. This could be as simple as cleaning out a closet, organizing kitchen cabinets or rearranging a room. The point is to stay busy and involved during the periods of isolation.
If you continue to experience sadness and nothing seems to help, make an appointment with your physician to rule out a more serious condition.
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Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to email@example.com or Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.