The past two winters’ cold mess in the Northeast (snow, scrape, dig out, rinse and repeat) has taken a toll on us in Massachusetts. We’ve avoided major storms so far this year. But we also know the ball could drop at any time!
Before you check in one more time with weather.com’s five-day forecast, take these preventive steps to protect your elderly loved ones from winter’s wrath.
- Ensure slip-free walking. As we age, our bones break more easily and recovery takes much longer. The perils of ice and snow amplify the risk of senior falls, which can be devastating to their health. Act now by having ice and snow melt granules to put on walks. Check your loved ones’ shoes and boots – do they fit well? Do they have good soles and traction? Check supportive equipment: walkers, canes, wheelchairs – to make sure they are in good working condition and that your senior is using them properly. The winter months are also a good time to re-evaluate the equipment within your loved one’s home — including support fixtures in the shower or tub, around the toilet, by the bed and in the main living areas – are secure.
- Prepare for power outages. If weather conditions permit, the best course of action may be to move your senior to another location with power. But if conditions are too dangerous or local authorities have imposed a travel ban, they must be equipped The Centers for Disease Control, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response offers this valuable checklist on how to equip your home, and that of your senior, for a day (or more) without electricity.
- Keep a list of transportation options and contacts. Is your senior nervous about driving or walking to their destination in ice or snow? Do they depend totally on you or others for transportation? While most seniors prefer private transportation, if you, another family member or a friend are not able to pick them up due to your work or personal commitments, you must research alternatives and contact organizations that can get your loved one where they need to be.
Transportation services are available across Massachusetts for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, commuters, and others. Options include the City of Boston’s Senior Shuttle and Taxi Discount Coupon Program, point-to-point shuttles coordinated or offered by Massachusetts’ Regional Elder Care Agencies, and through Mass Health and Human Services’ Human Service Transportation Office.
- Monitor carbon monoxide levels. That crackling fire or handy propane heater may provide warmth and comfort, but if there’s not adequate ventilation, they can lead to illness and even death. First, ask yourself if your senior is physically capable of managing the fireplace and safely operating free-standing heaters. Make sure their home’s carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order and are properly placed. Check their batteries regularly.
- Keep them warm. Seniors tend to get colder and lose body heat more rapidly. Don’t assume that because you are comfortable that they are too. Have an extra blanket, another sweater layer, and an extra pair of socks within their easy reach during the day. And be sure they don extra layers when venturing outside in freezing temperatures.
- Know when to ask for help. Emergency preparedness and planning is important: It increases the chances that our senior loved ones will be safe during and immediately after a weather emergency. Don’t wait until the storm hits to get them to a safer place. Keep a phone and email list of their closest neighbors who can check on them if they stay put. And finally, maintain a current list of emergency responders in your loved one’s town that you can call in the event that you can’t make it through the drifts.