The Caring Corner - Blog

Helping the Elderly Prepare for Winter Weather

By Emma Dickison

 Except in the warmest regions of the country, winter weather is a fact of life in one form or another. Even in the Deep South, heavy frosts, ice storms and even the occasional snowfall are never more than one or two five-day forecasts away. The impact from colder temperatures can range from minor inconveniences to serious incidents, which is why it’s important for all of us to consider some simple preparation and look after our older loved ones to make sure their needs are covered.

The risks from winter conditions can be divided into three broad categories: At Home, Around the Home, and Away from Home.

At Home

The best place for any of us to be during most winter storms is at home. That is, if we have the necessary supplies to maintain our safety and comfort for a day or two while the streets, sidewalks and parking lots return to something closer to normal.

Our caregivers recommend making sure your loved one builds in a buffer supply of consumable products in the household, including medications, food, beverages and personal care items. Special consideration should be given to ready-to-eat meals that won’t need cooking should utility service be interrupted. It’s also a good idea to make sure that flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and spare, fresh batteries are kept handy during storm season.

Away from Home

The biggest threat outside the home is usually driving. Obviously, winter road conditions demand closer concentration and a more defensive driving style from everybody, but particularly for those whose reflexes perhaps aren’t what they once were. 

But there are automobile risks beyond bumping into things that sometimes get overlooked. A breakdown during freezing temperatures can mean being stranded for hours, and expose drivers and passengers to hypothermia. That’s why proper winterization of the car–and a good once-over by a qualified mechanic–is recommended before severe conditions arrive. It’s also why we recommend that even the most technology-averse seniors have a working mobile phone with them when they drive. Early sunsets and limited visibility can make the ability to call for help in an emergency a genuine lifesaver.

Traveling around the community in winter also means some degree of walking over slippery terrain. Even the most well-maintained parking lots and garages are subject to black ice and refreezing, so a sturdy pair of high-traction shoes or boots is always a good idea. 

Around the Home

Winter conditions can affect our behavior, even when they are less than severe. Many times, we just decide dealing with the hassle of navigating slippery roads isn’t worth it and confine our activities to home for the day. But even there, a walk to the mailbox or to get the paper, or across the patio to fill a bird feeder or retrieve a dog toy, can put your senior at risk of a slip-and-fall injury. 

Making sure there’s a convenient supply of sand or ice-melting solution near any frequently-used exits can make it more likely your loved one will take proper precautions. For the same reason, now is the time to give some thought to who is going to be responsible for clearing driveways and walkways so life can return to normal as quickly as possible. 

We’re In It Together

Like all caregiving efforts, this is a team exercise. Use the buddy system and make sure somebody is checking in with Mom or Dad before, during and after winter weather events. Checking in doesn’t have to be patronizing, either. Everybody’s at least a little curious about local and regional variations in snowfall and that’s always a good excuse for a phone call.

What other tips and tricks for winter preparation do you have? Please share them with the community in our Facebook comments.