Winter caregiving can provide some of the most challenging times for caregivers.  The pain of arthritis is so much more pronounced in the colder weather and moving around is more difficult than usual.  Winter germs from the cold and flu are more present and the hearty comfort foods of winter sometimes do not settle well on the fragile stomach.  While many seniors flock to warmer climates in the winter, the bugs often go along for the ride. 

Winter is also synonymous with increased incidences of depression.  The shorter days and longer periods of darkness wreak havoc on the elderly.  Sundowners’ syndrome is real.  The diminished daylight hours cause those with dementia to become more confused.  The elderly want to sleep more, they become more repetitive, and they are less likely to engage with their caregivers.  Caregivers need to be more protective and limit the number of visitors who might carry an unsuspecting cold.  For the caregiver, winter doldrums require far more energy to accomplish daily routines.  The extra effort necessary to engage with an elder relative when there is less sunlight can be exhausting.  Regardless of how tired a caregiver may be, the extra work to cook and perhaps clean and provide care, it is imperative to continue forward and make the best of the shorter days.  If a loved one gets a cold caregivers must be vigilant that it doesn’t escalate into pneumonia.   It is the time of year when we do not venture out because we don’t need any broken bones that don’t heal very quickly or might require a stay at a rehab center where bugs multiply rapidly.  Winter is a time to remain indoors and rely on your inner strength to get you to warmer months.

In my book, One Caregiver’s Journey, I explain how my mother spent her days sitting on the couch, singing in Italian.  She was a happy docile soul.   She would sit silent in her thoughts often and then start to sing again.  In my book I write of the times the dead relatives would magically arrive to visit.  Winter was the time of year my mother would ask about her deceased siblings and extended family most often.  She would ask why they didn’t visit us or why I didn’t bring her to visit them.  She would talk of walking to school through the farms with her friends and suddenly I would become her younger sister.  She would ask if I remembered this person or that teacher and when I said no, and she would respond “well, you were there.”  Generally, mom would nap and wake up back with me, her daughter.   Because it seems that these occurrences only happen in winter, caregivers need a generous amount of patience to get through the winter as well.  

There is beauty in winter.  My mother always said the snow on the tree tips looked like carefully placed frosting.  I think of that often now when I look at the big evergreen trees outside, truly they are beautifully decorated.   I saw a video a friend took while driving through New York’s Central Park after a snowstorm.  It was beautiful.  I saw a video of the ocean in California with the waves crashing after a rainstorm.  It was beautiful.  Caregivers need to look for the beauty, you were given another day with your loved one.  Do not get depressed for the sun will come out, the days will get longer, and the promise of spring will ring true.  Caregivers must rely on their faith, humor, and love, it is how I managed almost a decade of caregiving.  It is how those who are caregiving in the dead of winter can survive as well.  Don’t fall into the depression of the winter doldrums – spring is right around the corner.

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