Senior Safe Winter Preparation for Caregivers

                With winter knocking at the door, trouble is the only thing warming up to come into our homes. Seniors and their caregivers face more winter weather challenges than most people. 

                If you have never had the experience of being in the shoes of an older person,  imagine the time you had a very nasty ( featuring  fluids streaming out of your body ) flu bug. Then remember the  lack of ability to plan and accomplish your normal activities. That feeling of inability to cope with problems is what can happen to a senior, acutely ill or physically challenged person.

                When it feels like life is coming at you like a train out of control, planning goes out the door 

along with good judgment. 

                Pride on the other hand .... you know what I mean..... old fashioned, overwhelming stubborn pride........ sticks to us  like a leech on the back of our necks sucking out the ability to ask for help, especially when we need help the most . 

                The combination of financial demands, inability to work through problems and difficulty in asking for help can make winter a serious challenge. Caregivers who understand these facts can make the difference  in quality of life and possibly even life and death.                       

                Consider both the physical and financial aspects of dealing with winter.  The basic needs include food, water, heat, clothing, sanitation, communication and medical needs.  When time, energy or money run out,  even the most important need can be ignored.

Help The Person Get Ready for Winter

                There are basic chores than need done for winter.  Help put away summer items. Get out stored winter clothes. coats, boots, gloves and other cold weather essentials.  Tasks that may seem simple, can be daunting to someone aging or in ill health.  

                Get emergency supplies in place. Taking away the fear of being trapped without the essentials can be tough on a person.  Pick a closet to cabinet and gather emergency supplies.  Stocking a place with LED flashlights, a backup battery radio, bottled water, food that can be eaten out of the package when utilities are off are the types of things that take the fear out of winter storm entrapment. 

                If they do not have a cell phone, consider a TracPhone or other emergency phone. It doesn't need to be an expensive phone, but supply a simple phone available if the regular phone system goes down or the person needs to leave a home.

                The isolation of winter is one of cold weather's biggest and meanest challenges. Set a time to talk. Anticipating a call can be as exciting as a phone call itself during dreary weather.  There are many ways to make these talks interesting and meaningful.  Asking about a story or experience from the past can be a great thing for everyone. You may even want to take notes about "the way things were"  for a family history.   

                Talk money. This is a tough one. People do not like to talk about the subject of if  there is not enough money for utilities, medicine  and food. They may be embarrassed, or too confused to apply for programs that can help with expenses like LIHEAP for heating assistance.  A few hours of effort  sorting out these issues could take a lot of stress from a person you care about.     

                Find out about essential medicines and put in place a plan that makes sure there is always a sufficient supply of these on hand. Whether the difficulty is delivery or payment, there are programs and options that are available. Making those arrangements could take some time, but will be worth the effort.  

                Send a "thinking of you” basket when a storm or other event is coming. That provides a supply of food, but more importantly lets people know that you care. It can relieve the stress of not rushing to the store before the storm.  

                Do not forget the pet. This is one of the most important things in many homes.  Food, water and a place to go if evacuating the home is very important. 

Get the home ready for winter

                Discuss and arrange for safe ways for snow removal or taking out trash. The CDC states that 1 in 3 persons over the age of 65 will fall. This results in 2.3 million trips to the ER.  Winter weather is a serious risk for these falls.

                Have the furnace checked and install a carbon monoxide detector. Properly adjusted furnaces cost less to run and are safer.  This is a place where financial help can save both utility money and lives. 

                Make sure there is a good First Aid kit in the home.  Also check the basic plumbing system. These are important issues that may be beyond some people to check, but as a caregiver, an important task.        

                Prepare a single room for emergencies.  Have blankets, flashlights and other important items ready to go for cold weather, loss of heat  or other emergency times.               

Have an emergency plan in place

                Know where there is an emergency shelter. Have the phone number and location available for the person who may need to call there.

                Have a designated person who is a contact for emergencies. Whether it be a trip to the hospital or a cold weather center, there needs to be common contact to get the message out.  Also have a planned access for getting into the home if the homeowner is not able to open the door. This can be a combination lockbox or neighbor. 

                Have a binder with medical information for the person in an easy to find location. This is in case emergency personnel  are the first to arrive at the home. Put a big note on the refrigerator where this binder is located.  Have a backup copy of all that information with the primary caregiver to take to a facility in medical emergencies.  

                Winter and weather events are a challenge for most of us. That challenge is even bigger for caregivers and those that need the extra help.