It’s important to make sure that the older adults in your life are prepared to have a safe and healthy winter. It doesn’t take much effort and the result can be peace of mind for you and your loved ones, knowing that winter can be challenging for anyone, particularly for older adults. Here are just five tips that you can do before and throughout the winter.
1 – Be Prepared for Emergencies
While this is just a general good rule of thumb for all of us, it is particularly important for elders. Winter storms can make traveling near impossible, create multi-day power outages, and cause social service agencies to cancel their services. Preparing for emergencies includes:
- Having plenty of batteries and flashlights on hand and easily accessible
- Making sure there are a few extra days’ worth of prescription medications available
- Putting together a simple first-aid kit
- Storing at least three days’ worth of food and water
- Keeping an easy-to-use cell phone available along with a list of important phone numbers
- Developing an emergency plan in case of power outages so that your loved one does not panic, and knows what to do and what to expect.
For more details about preparing for winter emergencies, visit the federal Centers for Disease Control’s website covering the topic.
2 – Make it Safe and Cozy
Set the thermostat to at least 68-70 degrees. If the home is old or hard to keep warm, consider closing off areas that aren’t used regularly. You can also lay towels underneath drafty doorways. Consider adding caulking or weather stripping to windows for more insulation. Blinds and curtains can also help with keeping it warm inside. Add a few extra blankets on the bed, and on a frequently used couch/chair. Make sure that they have pajamas warm enough for winter nights. Don’t forget to install and/or test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—fireplaces, gas heaters and lanterns can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, making winter a particularly important time of year to have functioning detectors. It is also when house fires are more likely to happen, due to the use of space heaters, candles, or electric blankets that can overheat.
If heating bills are a concern for your loved one, visit LIHEAP, which can offer assistance with heating costs.
3 – Take Care of the Outside
This means installing proper outdoor lighting, lining up a plow guy or a trusted friend or neighbor to help with snow removal, and being sure that their cane tips are in good shape. Slipping on ice is never fun, and for elderly individuals, it can be extremely dangerous, so it is crucial to be sure that walkways and driveways are clear of ice as much as possible. If your loved one is still driving, make sure the car is serviced before winter hits, consider getting snow or studded tires, and be sure to throw a small emergency roadside kit in there for safe measure.
4 – Dress for the Elements
Older adults lose body heat more quickly than their younger counterparts. This makes it critical that they have proper attire for cold climates. This means at least one set of hats and gloves, a heavy winter coat, boots with good treads, and wool socks, and a scarf. Waterproof winter coats are ideal for when it is precipitating. Consider putting inexpensive ice cleats on a pair of boots – this will make walking on icy driveways or sidewalks a bit safer. Hand and feet warmers can be good to have on hand, too. Just open, shake, and drop into mittens or inside of boots. They can also prove to be helpful during long power outages when heat is hard to come by.
Be sure that your loved one removes his/her boots as soon as they come inside. This lessens the chance of tracking snow and ice onto the floors, which can quickly become a dangerous, slippery mess.
5 – Check in Regularly
Winter depression is real, and it particularly can affect seniors who tend to be more isolated. Planning regular visits can help – it keeps them connected and also gives you a chance to check in on how they are doing. If you live far away, consider asking other relatives or friends in the area if they can stop by regularly. Don’t forget that a phone call can make someone’s day, and you can do this easily even if you live on the other side of the country. Lastly, if your loved one does not have a lot of social engagement, consider looking into community services that may be available, such as this Senior Companion Program in Maine. By taking these few, simple steps, you will be preparing the seniors in your life for a safe and successful winter.