Tips for Overcoming the Winter Blues in Seniors

Two senior residents exercising on exercise bikes in a community gym

The winter blues affect nearly everyone, but they can especially impact our senior parents or loved ones. As people age, their social circles tend to shrink. They have less contact with former coworkers, and the loss of family or friends can exacerbate feelings of isolation. On top of these factors, winter’s shorter daylight hours make the days feel dreary and can lead to seasonal depression.

Luckily, there are steps that can be taken to improve the winter blues in seniors.

Addressing and Combating the Winter Blues in Seniors

Some folks naturally love winter, welcoming the snow and favoring cooler temperatures. But for others, the darker, colder days tend to bring down their mood, and seniors in particular are at risk for seasonal depression. In fact, approximately a quarter of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated, putting them at a higher risk for various forms of depression.

“Winter blues” is a nickname for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that impacts people during the same time every year—most frequently winter. In some cases, treating SAD may require specialized therapy and medication management.

How these “blue” feelings start is obvious: When it’s cold, we stay inside more often and for prolonged periods of time. The chilly gray winter weather alone is enough to make someone feel lonely—and social isolation takes a serious toll on a person’s mental and physical health. 

Signs of the Winter Blues in Seniors

If you’re noticing any of the following changes in your parent or loved one, they may be experiencing the winter blues:

  • Losing interest in activities that were once a joy
  • Feeling consistently listless and sad, day after day
  • Worrying more than usual, with increased anxiety
  • Being overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness
  • Having low energy and feeling sluggish
  • Persistently struggling to concentrate
  • Experiencing appetite changes that lead to unwanted weight loss or gain

Suggestions for Overcoming the Winter Blues

Whether it’s brought on by the winter or something else, winter blues in seniors should be taken seriously because the condition can become so intense for some that they feel hopeless enough that they don’t want to live anymore. To help your senior parent or loved one whose mental health may be impacted by the winter season, try taking the following steps.

1. Increase light exposure. 

Ask any party planner: Lighting sets the mood. The amount of light someone is exposed to throughout the day can impact a person’s emotions and mental health. That’s why maintaining enough light exposure is especially important during the winter months.

The right level of lighting and ambiance can encourage a better mood. Ensuring that your senior parent or loved one has sufficient lighting in their living spaces can improve their overall mood and outlook on life. Turning on the lights may seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference. Specially designed light boxes that produce bright white light and controlled UV light are available to purchase if you want to upgrade from simple light exposure to more specialized light therapy.

Beyond ambient lighting, never underestimate the power of vibrant colors. Adding pops of color to a living space with decor pieces, artwork, and other decorations can go a long way toward boosting your loved one’s mood when the days are gray. Strategic color placement is a great tool to support well-being because color can really impact and change our mood. For instance, red can provide a zing of energy, while blue tends to create a sense of calm. 


Is it time to get help for you or your loved one? Take our 4-minute assessment to get more detail on the right direction for you.

Take the Assessment


2. Get active, and stay active.

Some people say sitting is the new smoking when it comes to negative health effects. A sedentary lifestyle can create a buildup of fatty acids, potentially leading to heart disease. Staying static can also lead to blood clots or an increased chance of diabetes. When the weather gets too cold to participate in outdoor physical activities, the resulting lack of exercise or movement can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression

However, the benefits of physical activity come into play when addressing the winter blues. Seniors who keep their bodies moving can boost cognition and memory, alleviating stress and anxiety. Regular physical activity also strengthens muscles and bones, manages weight, keeps a lid on blood pressure, and maintains healthy cholesterol levels.

If you think your senior parent or loved one might benefit from more physical activity during winter, there are plenty of opportunities to stay active indoors.


In almost every corner of the U.S., you can find a yoga class. Many local senior centers have exercise programs that include yoga, Tai Chi, or pilates. Plus, there is no shortage of yoga apps and streaming channels that cater to both beginners and experts.


Many municipalities have public indoor pools available for use in the winter, such as in a gym, school, or community recreation center. Some senior living communities may have a pool and typically offer fun pool-based exercise classes like water aerobics.


If your loved one lives in a southern state, outdoor walks can still be a great idea when it’s not snowing or raining. If it’s too cold or slippery for an outdoor walk, malls and public gyms are great options for places to get in some steps.


Dancing is great exercise, not to mention buckets of fun. We’re not dancing with the stars here—we don’t need to be the next Paula Abdul. But the two-step, the waltz, or some line dancing? Heck yes! When was the last time your parent listened to their favorite Beatles song and danced around the living room? 

Whether they take a formal class at the community center or rock it out at home, encourage your loved one to dance away the winter gray. As long as it’s low-impact and appropriate for their abilities, getting and staying physically active can be a great weapon when battling the winter blues.

3. Eat nutritious foods.

You can’t knock out a yoga session or dance the night away without the proper fuel. Eating well all year round is pertinent to maintaining physical and mental health, but it’s especially important in winter. Nutrient-rich foods such as salmon, fortified cereals, eggs, and mushrooms can boost vitamin D levels when the sun doesn’t shine as bright or remains hidden by gray clouds.

Consuming large amounts of alcohol, refined carbs, sugar, and caffeine can also potentially trigger anxiety. There’s no need to give up treats entirely, but encourage your senior loved one to practice moderation. All of these nutritional factors can also impact sleep, and lack of sleep can trigger anxiety. 

4. Socialize with friends and family. 

This one may also be a no-brainer: Make sure your loved one is getting plenty of face-to-face time and phone calls with friends and family members.

Life gets busy. It’s easy to start work on a Monday, and the next thing you know, it’s Friday night and you’re sitting on the couch in your jammies. For retired seniors, there are fewer workplace requirements and after-school activities to ferry family members to—activities that once filled their needs for regular, scheduled human interaction. Additionally, seniors may have mobility issues, which can make getting out a chore. 

The bottom line is that it’s easy for seniors to feel disconnected. Interacting with loved ones can be one of the most powerful barriers that keeps the winter blues at bay. Phone calls, emails, texts, and video calls are great ways to stay in touch, but nothing can substitute in-person quality time. Given how busy we all are, you have to be intentional about helping your loved one stay connected. Consider the following ways to socially gather with intention. 


There’s no doubt that food brings us together, so plan those family meals. If your family doesn’t have a Sunday dinner ritual, start one. If your parent lives in a senior living community, pop in during mealtimes to enjoy the restaurant-style food and quality time.

Holidays and Special Occasions

Many celebration-worthy special occasions occur throughout the year, from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve to birthdays and anniversaries sprinkled throughout. Of course, it’s important to remember your senior loved one’s birthdays and important occasions, but also be sure to include them in other special events such as extended family birthday parties, graduations, weddings, and other celebrations. If your parent or loved one is living in a senior living community, work with them to coordinate off-campus trips to family gatherings.

Casual Visits

In addition to the above suggestions, you don’t need an excuse to visit parents or loved ones. Little events such as watching a favorite weekly show together or sharing a special treat can go a long way. Encourage your family and friends to put a day on their calendars once a month to just hang out with your senior loved one during the winter months. Even an hour-long visit can make all the difference during bouts of the winter blues in seniors. 

Find a Community in Which Your Loved One Can Thrive

Your senior loved one’s health may be good now, but no one knows what the road ahead will look like, especially as their social circle shrinks. This is an opportunity for senior living communities to play an especially productive and positive role.

Senior living communities offer numerous weekly activities and regular opportunities for socialization, encouraging residents to maintain a healthy social circle. If your loved one is active but needs to make new connections, a senior living community could be the solution. These communities also provide delicious and nutritious meals as well as lots to do in the day-to-day. 

The right senior living community can be the answer to helping your loved one overcome the winter blues. By taking a holistic approach to aging and health, Cedarhurst Senior Living ensures a safe, happy, and healthy environment in which to thrive.

The Holistic Approach to Aging and Health with Senior Living

Originally published January 2023. Revised November 2023.

Ready to see the community?

Schedule a Tour

LifeStyle_800x800-1 1