During frigid weather seniors are at a higher risk for accidents, injuries and other emergencies, especially if they still drive. Other threats include furnace failures, power outages, isolation, hypothermia and dehydration. If you are a senior, have an elderly family member or close friend that lives independently, here are some important cold weather safety tips to prepare them and their home for winter weather.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, STAY WARM
Check the furnace
Preventative HVAC maintenance ensures trouble-free operation and peak performance of the furnace. Schedule a furnace inspection with an HVAC professional. Have the contractor clean or replace filters and make any necessary repairs to avoid your furnace breaking down during the cold.
Clean the chimney and flue
If your home as a fireplace or wood/pellet stove, creosote and soot can build up and potentially cause a chimney fire. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) says that fireplaces need to be cleaned when there is 1/8″ of sooty buildup inside the chimney or flue system. If you don’t want to spend the money on a professional chimney, use a do-it-yourself chimney cleaning system that makes it easy to clean the chimney from INSIDE the home without getting up on a ladder.
Stock up on Fuel
If you heat your house with oil or propane, make sure tanks are full and plan for auto fill so that you don’t risk running out of fuel. If you heat with a wood stove arrange for regular deliveries of seasoned firewood or wood pellets.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s heating system failing or running out of fuel, install a freeze alarm that sends an alert if their heating system fails. There are many types of affordable call out freeze alarms that will automatically call emergency numbers if there is a drastic drop in temperature. Talk to your local HVAC professional for options available in your area.
BE READY FOR POWER OUTAGES
Have an alternative source of heat
During power outages make sure to have a safe (non-electric) way to stay warm. Wood stoves, kerosene heaters, or efficient wood-burning fireplace can keep you warm until your power is restored. But burning wood or kerosene can produce deadly CO gasses, make sure the are is properly ventilated and install a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke detector.
Have non-electric lighting available
Make sure you have adequate lighting sources during blackouts, including battery-powered flashlights, lanterns and extra batteries. Also use hand crank flashlight that works without batteries as a backup. Prevent falls, tripping and running into objects during a power outage by installing automatic rechargeable nightlights in room and hallways. These will provide instant illumination if the power goes out. Consider installing solar-powered security lights to help navigate outside. They are easy to install because they are wireless and can be positioned just about anywhere there is adequate sunshine to recharge the batteries.
Keep your cell phone charged
During a power outage it is important to stay in touch with the outside world, but keeping a mobile device charged is a problem when there is no electricity. There are emergency cell phone chargers that can power up your cell phone or table during prolonged power outages.
STOCK UP ON FOOD, WATER AND MEDICINES
Buy extra food and bottle water
Have at least a week’s supply of non-perishable food and a couple of gallons of drinking water on hand in case you lose power. Get a hand-operated can opener to use during power outages.
Fill prescriptions of critical medicines
Don’t let your medicine run low, have automatic renewals set up to deliver your medicine before you run out. Check with your local pharmacy to see if they offer home delivery or fill your prescriptions through a mail order pharmacy so that you don’t have to worry about going out in bad weather to pick up your medicine.
If you take multiple prescription medications, vitamins or other supplements at various times during the day it can be difficult to manage and risky if you get it wrong. Using weekly or monthly pill box will remind you when to take your doses or you can go with an automated pill dispenser. Many will also have a reminder that alerts you when it is time to take a pill and will automatically dispense it for you.
STAY HEALTHY WHEN HOUSEBOUND
Prevent cabin fever
Winter can be a time of boredom, isolation and seasonal depression, especially when housebound. Encourage family and friends to stop over or stay in touch by phone. Ake sure you have a good telephone system to make calls easily. There are phones available with easy-to-ready buttons, amplified volume and talking caller ID. These features are helpful for folks with hearing loss, low vision or limited mobility.
Enjoy indoor exercise
Move your body by walking in place or doing laps around the house. Wearing a pedometer or heart rate monitor can encourage movement as your watch your progress.
Winter dehydration is a real risk, especially for the elderly. Remember to eat well-balanced meals that include a lot of vegetable and fruits and drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is another very important cold weather safety tip.
MORE COLD WEATHER SAFETY SUGGESTIONS
Make sure your car is winterized and equipped with an ice scraper, travel fluid, hat, gloves, cell phone and a travel blanket in case you become stuck or stranded. Remember to pay attention to travel warnings or advisories during winter weather. Stay indoors until everything clear.
Keep your walkways, entrances and driveway shoveled and salted. If you are not able to do it yourself, arrange to have it automatically done when needed. If you are able, help the seniors in your life by keeping their driveways and walkways safe, bringing in their mail and newspapers and offering to drive them to the store or appointment.
HELPFUL RESOURCES FOR COLD WEATHER
AND POWER OUTAGE SAFETY