The weather outside can mean problems for seniors struggling on fixed incomes.
Some common living expenses, such as power or gas bills, don’t stay steady across the year with seniors’ incomes and seem to go up every year (and sometimes it seems every month!).
Many seniors have to choose between paying high energy bills and being uncomfortable in their own homes.
Unfortunately that means some have to choose between heat or air conditioning and buying food or medications.
That is a choice our senior loved ones shouldn’t have to face as the seasons change.
They may feel that there really is no choice because there is not enough money to pay extreme energy bills. It is easier for them to keep the heat or air turned off instead of incurring a bill they can’t pay leaving them uncomfortable and maybe even in medical danger.
While we can’t change the weather outside, we can do a better job of keeping it outside and, by doing so, a better job of managing energy bills.
For our senior loved ones, being comfortable in the house AND having enough money for other things each month would be a real gift.
If They Can’t Control Indoor Temperatures
The health and well being of our seniors every day of the year is important to family caregivers.
There are consequences to their health and quality of life when our seniors’ home does not maintain an appropriate temperature throughout the year because they may fear a high energy bill.
Health problems that can occur when the temperature is not appropriate in our senior’s homes:
- Seniors are more prone to heat stress than younger people.
- Seniors bodies don’t adjust as efficiently to changes in temperature (hot or cold).
- Prescription medications can affect the body’s response to temperature.
- Some illnesses or chronic conditions can prevent your senior’s body from maintaining the right temperature.
- Heat exhaustion can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids according to the CDC.
- Heat stroke is a serious condition that can lead to death. It happens when the body can’t control its temperature and it rises quickly, unable to sweat or cool down.
- Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature is lowered to dangerous levels. It can happen anywhere not just in a northeastern snowstorm but also in a home that is too cold.
Keeping Seniors Comfortable at Home
There are a number of steps you can take to turn most houses into lower energy users so that seniors can keep their home comfortable and prevent medical emergencies.
Some of them, like getting a more energy-efficient cooling and heating system, may simply be too expensive to be practical.
There are a number of other actions that can be applied to many houses to make them less energy hungry and more comfortable at a lower price.
Here are some steps a homeowner — or someone who cares for a homeowner, such as a family caregiver — can take.
- Call the local utility – many will send someone out to look for ways the energy usage of the house can be reduced, typically at little or no cost. They may also have financial incentives in place to encourage customers to implement those reductions.
- Caulk and weatherstrip around windows and doors – you can often significantly reduce heating and cooling costs by sealing air leaks.
- Lower the temperature on the water heater – most people only need water heaters set at 120 degrees. For every 10 degrees you reduce your water heater, you may reduce your total energy bill by 3-5%.
- Use trees to moderate temperatures – trees can provide shade in the summer and be trimmed (or lose their leaves) to let the sun in during the winter. Plant trees in specific places in around the house so that they can shade windows.
- Install a programmable thermostat – adjust the temperature in the house around the schedule of its residents, automatically reduces heating and cooling costs but insuring a proper temperature at the proper time is achieved.
- Replace older appliances with Energy Star models that use less energy to operate.
- Use CFL or LED light bulbs that use less energy to light the home and last longer than traditional light bulbs.
- Add insulation to retain heat and cold in the home instead of letting it escape through the attic or walls.
- Install ceiling fans or ventilation fans to keep the air moving.
- Maintain heating and air conditioning units — have a specialized service professional check seniors’ units to be sure they are running at peak efficiency.
Utilize Available Resources
Seniors shouldn’t go without heat or cooling in their home due to finances. This could put their health at risk and decrease their quality of life as they age in place.
Family caregivers and senior can get more info from their utility or from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Saver site.
You may want to check with LIHEAP – the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in your state which provides critical energy assistance to the nation’s most vulnerable households: 92% of participants have an elderly household member. Find LIHEAP benefits in your area using this locator.
Family caregivers can help make home improvements, either themselves or with the help of professional services. You may want to purchase as many cost-effective upgrades as possible throughout the house to make it more energy efficient.
If your senior’s budget won’t allow some of these upgrades to their home, perhaps family members can make a gift of energy efficiency. It is a gift that will truly keep on giving by helping to make their home more energy efficient and ease their financial worries while they remain healthy and comfortable throughout the year.
Please let us know if you have tips to share!