We’ve had a beautiful fall and I, for one, have been tempted to put off thinking about winter. We all know, though, unless you just moved here from warmer climes, that winter will indeed arrive and that it is important to be ready and take steps to be safe. I keep waiting for that last sunny, not too cold weekend day to put the hoses and planters away and get the driveway markers out. Hopefully by the time you are reading this, these things have been accomplished.
If you drive, make sure you car is ready. Have the antifreeze, tires and windshield wipers checked. Make sure the windshield cleaner reservoir is filled with fluid that does not freeze. Get your snow brush/scraper out and in the car. Keep a blanket, flashlight and some emergency supplies in the car. Keep your gas tank more than half full. Don’t drive in bad weather unless you have to, and keep an eye out for icy patches.
Keeping steps, walks and driveways clear of ice and snow can seem an endless task. If you clear your own, check with your health care provider to make sure it is safe to do so. When it’s cold, your heart works harder to keep you warm and exertion caused by shoveling can put extra strain on your heart. Shoveling also puts strain on your back, knees, shoulders etc. If you do shovel, warm up first, and push instead of lifting the snow. If you need to lift, do it in small batches and take frequent breaks. If you have someone shovel for you, try to make arrangements for the person to come any time it snows.
Stock up. Buy extra canned goods and easy-to-prepare foods when they are on sale. Keep some bottled water on hand for emergencies. Make sure you have working flashlights and fresh batteries. Candles are an option, but they also pose a safety risk and should not be left unattended while burning.
Don’t wait until late Friday afternoon before an impending storm to make sure you have adequate heating fuel. Most fuel suppliers charge a premium for deliveries outside of the regular delivery schedule. If you are concerned about purchasing fuel and haven’t received heating assistance in the past, request a HEAP application. In most counties those 60 and older can request a HEAP application through the Office for the Aging.
You need to get your home ready as well. Make sure smoke detectors are working properly and consider getting a carbon monoxide detector if you don’t have one. Most of us like to do what we can to keep the heat in and the cold out, but the heating season also brings an increased risk for fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Have your heating system checked and cleaned before the cold weather sets in. You’ll hopefully be able to avoid problems later on.
Because older adults have a slower metabolism, they are more susceptible to hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature. Conditions such as Parkinson’s, strokes, arthritis and some medications can also limit the body’s response to cold. Keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature and use enough blankets to stay warm at night. If you feel you need to keep the thermostat turned down, be sure to wear multiple layers of clothes and consider a wrap. Natural fibers are recommended, but fleece does a good job, too.
Also dress in layers when outdoors and limit the amount of time you spend outside. Be sure to wear a hat, scarf and something to cover your hands — mittens are best. Don’t go out when it is extremely cold and or windy unless absolutely necessary. Wear shoes or boots with non-skid soles. If you use a cane, replace the rubber tip before it is worn smooth. You might also consider an ice-pick-like attachment that fits on to the end of the cane. Don’t risk walking on walks that haven’t been cleared or crossing that slushy intersection.
If you know older people who may be more at risk during extreme weather, check on them. Offer to pick up needed items at the store. If their walk isn’t shoveled see if they need help making arrangements to get it cleared. If you are concerned about yourself or others, call the Office for the Aging and we’ll work with you to identify possible resources for assistance.
Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.