With record-breaking weather events on the rise, please make sure that you and your loved ones are prepared to stay safe and warm this winter.
The importance of cold weather safety
Winter storms and cold weather pose health and safety risks for people of all ages, but seniors are particularly vulnerable. As we age, we produce less of our own body heat, making seniors more prone to getting dangerously cold indoors, and even frostbite outdoors. Underlying medical conditions, common deficits in balance and strength, some medications, and impaired vision contribute to making seniors much more likely to have a slip-and-fall accident, too. In fact, 1 in 4 seniors fall every year, and the risk increases in icy cold weather, especially over age 75.
4 winter weather safety tips
Here are four tips on how to prepare for a winter storm and prevent injury in cold weather by taking good care of yourself and your home environment.
1. Keep your home heated safely
Dressing in layers is the best way to insulate and hold onto your natural body heat—don’t forget your head, hands, and feet. In addition, keep warm blankets handy where you sit and sleep.
By far, central heating is the safest way to keep your home toasty and warm—either forced air or radiators. Radiators can be a fire and burn risk, so please keep them clear of furniture, curtains, and clutter. On a limited budget, it can be tempting to keep your thermostat low, but don’t get carried away—seniors should keep it set on 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
To save heating costs, close doors to rooms you don’t occupy and insulate doors and windows where you feel a draft—weather stripping, window film, door sweeps, stuffed draft stoppers, and curtains can be inexpensive solutions. Ask your utility company or local Office on Aging about cost-saving energy assistance programs.
If you must use a fireplace, space heater, or wood-burning stove (most efficient), be very careful to keep it clear and contained—and vented if there’s a flame—and avoid electric blankets. All homes should be equipped with working smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguishers.
2. Be mindful of potential safety hazards indoors and out
To prevent accidents, consider using automatic lighting in your doorways and hallways. Test all bannisters and grab bars to ensure they are sturdy enough to prevent a fall, and identify where to install new ones. Assess the entrances and walkways inside and outside your home and remove all clutter and trip hazards such as planters, power cords, and throw rugs. If you need home nursing or personal care services, a BAYADA Clinical Manager can help you do a home safety assessment.
To keep floors dry, use a non-slip, absorbent mat and storage area for umbrellas and wet shoes at indoor entrances. To keep outdoor pathways accessible, hire or recruit someone to spread salt or ice melt before a storm and to do leaf, snow, and ice removal in a timely manner. Keep your gutters clean and working to prevent slippery puddles from forming, and scatter kitty litter to improve traction outdoors when there’s snow or ice on the ground. Remember, if the outdoor temperature is 32°F or below, any surface that looks wet will be icy!
3. Focus on fall prevention.
At any age, there are many things you can do to stay mobile and prevent injury. Fear of falling sometimes limits our activity, but that can become a vicious cycle. It is important to get exercise to maintain your muscle strength and balance and prevent falls, and it is never too late to start. In the comfort of your own home, a BAYADA Physical Therapist can help you get moving in a way that’s safe and effective.
Talk to your doctor about your risk of falls. Ask for an exercise program to maintain strength, flexibility, and balanced gait. Safety-check your list of medications for interactions and side effects; and get a blood screen to ensure that you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet (think dark, leafy greens and dairy). Vitamin D and calcium have been linked to bone health, muscle strength, and balance—leading to a lower incidence of falls. Knowing your blood serum levels, your doctor may recommend dietary changes or supplements in a dosage that won’t overdo it.
If needed, a BAYADA Home Health Aide can assist you by running errands and helping you move around your home and community safely.
4. Be prepared with a plan and ready supplies.
You never know when you may lose power or get stuck at home due to inclement weather. Plan for an emergency now to ensure that you’ll have the supplies and support you need.
Make an emergency communication plan that lists phone numbers for your caregivers, physicians, neighbors, and loved ones.
Stock at least a 3-day supply of water and non-perishable food, necessary medicines and medical supplies, and backup sources of heat, light, and power. Some options include a rechargeable marine battery, flashlights, battery-powered lanterns, backup generator, dry, seasoned firewood, or space heater.
Other items to keep in stock include: a fully charged cell phone, cordless phone charger, blankets, matches, first aid kit with instructions, battery-powered radio or NOAA weather radio, extra batteries, manual can opener, snow shovel, salt/ice melt, and kitty litter.
If someone in your home relies on electric medical equipment, ask your utility provider to list you as a ‘life-sustaining equipment customer’ so they can prioritize restoring your power in an outage. A BAYADA Clinical Manager can help ensure that your caregivers are trained and equipped for a weather emergency.
With a little thought and effort, we all can help each other stay safe and comfortable this winter. Enjoy this season of rest—spring is on the way!