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During long winters, Rhode Island residents often remain secluded, including older adults. With chilly mornings and short days keeping seniors at home and COVID concerns keeping extended family away, this winter has been especially hard. These factors make it more important than ever for older adults to take advantage of local community centers and other available resources. Organizations like PACE-RI bring together the elements of life enrichment and socialization that can help seniors stay active and avoid social isolation in the winter months.

With Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more weeks of winter, what are options to keep seniors emotionally healthy and socially engaged?  In this post, we’ll explore the social and medical challenges that older adults face during winter, and what families and caregivers can do about it.

Loneliness in Older Adults

For people of any age, loneliness is detrimental to both mental and physical health. For older adults who live alone, that isolation can be a difficult problem to avoid without the interaction of neighbors, family, or even coworkers.  According to National Institute on Aging, older adults who suffer from social isolation are more likely to suffer from physical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. They are also at increased risk of anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline.

The Role of Cognitive Impairment

Older adults who have cognitive impairment are at particular risk when living alone. Given that they are not likely able to drive themselves, most rely on public transit which is particularly unreliable during the winter months. Cognitively impaired adults are also likely to feel their situation is more precarious when living alone, leading to amplified feelings of fear and distress.

How Loved Ones Can Help

For families who struggle to make time for their older relatives, it can seem impossible to ensure they’re safe during the winter months. But small gestures and mindful interactions can go a long way toward staving off social isolation and monitoring their aging relatives who may need some extra help. Here are a few ideas to stay connected:

  • Start a weekly video call routine
  • Plan to have dinner together on a night off
  • Check in with your loved one’s neighbors
  • Encourage grandchildren to visit after school.

Community Resources for Families

Fortunately for Rhode Islanders, there’s one place that can offer a wide range of resources to address loved ones’ social, medical and behavioral needs.  With three locations (and a fourth one pending CMS approval), PACE-RI offers seniors 55+ comprehensive care, 365 days a year.  PACE-RI participants are monitored and kept engaged by our social work and life enrichment team. 

If participants want company and a catered meal, they can join in on activities at one of our day centers.  Programming includes music, games, art, and exercise. Not only does participating in day center activities encourage interaction with other seniors, it also creates more opportunities for the professionals at PACE-RI to keep track of your loved one’s overall wellbeing.

If a PACE participant prefers to remain at home, we will bring services to them – whether it is with home care visits or by providing accessible electronic devices to keep in touch with loved ones via video chat. PACE-RI’s care team will tailor services to accommodate the needs and preferences of the participants it serves.

Looking Forward to Spring

Not every winter needs to be dismal. Take some time with your loved one to make plans for the spring. Plant a bulb indoors and watch it grow. Paint a landscape of a favorite summertime scene. Make plans for a picnic outdoors and mark it on the calendar. With the promise of crocuses popping their heads out of the ground to delight us with color in just a few weeks, we need to see the sunshine in between the cracks of the grey clouds of winter.

Our team is here to help older adults continue to live in the community safely and well. If you have an older relative who is struggling to maintain social connections or their overall health, reach out to PACE-RI for more information and to see if they may be eligible for services.