Many of us look forward to winter and the cold, especially after a long hot summer, but too much cold can be harmful to our senior loved ones — and in some cases even deadly.
Being cold outside is one thing, but we need to keep it outside, particularly for senior loved ones who are especially susceptible to its risks.
Dangerously cold weather can occur across the US, even in areas that are typically warmer.
Is your senior loved one prepared for the mercury to drop to dangerous levels? Are you, as their family caregiver, prepared to help them deal with the cold and stay safe?
These tips will help you prepare your senior — and you — to get through whatever cold this winter has in store.
Home Heating System
One of the keys to staying warm is, not surprisingly, the home heating system. No matter what type of system is in your senior’s home, there are steps you can take to help ensure it is ready to keep it warm inside, regardless of the temperature outside.
- Test the heating system to make sure it is operating properly. It might be helpful to get a maintenance contract to have the system checked regularly and kept in good working order by an HVAC professional.
- Adjust the thermostat settings to the desired temperature range to keep your loved one comfortable. Consider installing programmable thermostats that can be set to different temperatures as desired (and safe) day or night.
- Change the filters if needed to assure proper air flow. If in doubt about how long they’ve been there, go ahead and change them. Be sure to write the date on the new ones so next time you’ll know how long they’ve been there.
- Check air vents to ensure they aren’t covered or blocked.
- Make sure your loved one has the money to pay the bills — even if you have to pay the bill for them. This is an important point that’s too often overlooked. After all, a working system is no good if your senior loved one doesn’t run it for fear of getting a bill that they don’t feel they can afford to pay. If money is a problem, find out if your senior qualifies for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Many whose homes don’t have working heating systems or who think it is too expensive turn to portable heaters to keep warm. If those are in your senior’s home, review the instructions to ensure they are set up and used properly to prevent a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
Help the Home Keep the Cold Outside
Even the best home heating systems can have trouble keeping the home warm — and cost a lot more to do it — if the home is letting in the cold. There are some steps you can take to help your senior loved one’s home keep out the cold air.
- Make sure all windows are closed tightly. Remember, they may have been opened for the comfortable fall weather. Be sure to check the top and bottom of each one for tight closure.
- If the house has storm windows, ensure those are properly installed.
- Check the caulking around windows to make sure the cold outdoor air stays there. Likewise the weatherstripping around both windows and doors.
- Look for any other places cold air might get in, such as under doors (install door sweeps if needed).
Many local utilities have low or no-cost programs to check leaks in the home and help seal them.
Warm Clothing & Wraps
Dressing warmly in the cold weather is important, whether in the home or outside. With the right clothes and maybe some blankets, your senior loved one can stay warm while keeping the thermostat a bit lower to save money.
- Check to see if your senior loved one has warm indoor and outdoor clothing that fits. Remember, it may be stored away since last winter.
- Make sure there are sufficient blankets where your loved one will need them. Remember, carrying large blankets from room to room can create tripping hazards for seniors or may be so inconvenient they simply won’t do it. You may need to help them get more.
- Get out the slippers and replace them if needed. Warm feet and firm footing are both important.
This is one area in which planning ahead can be helpful, since the selection of warm clothing is often depleted by the time the coldest weather hits. If that’s the situation you face, you might get what you can to help your senior now and make a list to keep in mind when winter clothes hit the stores next time.
Other Important Checks
- Make sure sprinkler systems are turned off when the weather turns freezing to avoid icy walkways.
- Arrange help for your loved one in shoveling snow off walkways and driveways, if needed, to avoid over-exertion and exposure to the cold.
- Check fireplaces for proper ventilation.
- If your senior loved one lives alone, check in regularly.
You can more information on preparing for extreme cold and winter storms at Ready.gov.