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seniors hands walker

For many of us, winter weather means cozy evenings by the fire, mugs of thick hot cocoa and the occasional snowball fight. But for seniors who might not be able to get around as well as they used to, winter can spell all sort of challenges and dangers. If you have an elderly relative who plans to stay in their home well into their golden years, making sure their home is safe can give everyone peace of mind.

Safety outside the home

When winter winds start to blow, safety becomes an issue for anyone who might be outside in the elements. It becomes especially serious for seniors, who might not be as steady on their feet or as able to handle the cold. To help ensure a safe winter, take the following precautions:

  1. Every set of steps should have a sturdy railing. If the sidewalk or driveway slopes significantly, a railing at that point is probably a good idea, too. A ramp should have railings on both sides.
  2. Add strips to the steps for added traction, and make sure there is a good supply of ice melt on hand. Put it in a bucket that is easy to open, and provide a small scoop that can be easily lifted even when completely full.
  3. Hire someone to shovel walkways and driveways. Keep in mind that many heart attacks happen when older adults try to do this job themselves! This is a job for professionals or the neighborhood kids who want to earn a little spending money.
  4. Invest in boots with non-skid soles, or give them a set of traction helpers — these thin gadgets fit onto the bottom of a shoe and help dig into the ice and snow when walking. If they walk with a cane, make sure the tip is sturdy and sure.
  5. Install timer lights outside the home to provide illumination when the sun goes down. Even though this might not be necessary for the senior who tends to stay inside, it can provide peace of mind and can also help with security.

icy sidewalk

Safety inside the home

After you have done everything you can to keep the outside of the home safe, it’s time to look to the inside. From emergency lights to carbon monoxide detectors, this list should get you started:

  1. You already know smoke alarms are a must, but don’t forget those carbon monoxide detectors! These inexpensive alarms can trigger an alert long before the effects of carbon monoxide are felt. Install them in appropriate places and change the batteries every six months.
  2. Turn to emergency lights for power outages. These lights come on when the power goes out, and can light up the room enough to see your way around. Put them in strategic locations, like along the staircase.
  3. Arrange for regular maintenance on any part of the home that might be used during winter, including the furnace or chimney. Make sure all of it is working properly before the snow hits.
  4. Consider a home alarm system that has the added option of alerts if someone falls or otherwise needs assistance. Alarm systems range from the most basic to those with a plethora of bells and whistles — sit down with your loved one to decide which options are best.
  5. Always provide for warmth in the home, even if the power goes out. Make sure there is a good supply of heavy winter coats and blankets that can suffice in an emergency until you can get there. Put them in a location that is very easy to access.

Other safety tips for seniors

There are many other things you can do to help ensure an elderly loved one is safe and secure during the coldest nights of the year. Always encourage them to stay inside when the weather gets very bad, and be prepared to come to their house if they get snowed in. Come bearing gifts, like high-energy snacks and plenty of bottled water. Keep an eye on space heaters by making sure they are properly placed and the cords are not frayed or damaged. Keep easy-to-use fire extinguishers in key places. Bring their mail to them, and make sure to clean the steps and walkways thoroughly if they insist on going outside.

elderly man shoveling snow baby winter

Make sure they can get in touch with you, no matter what. A good alarm system is wonderful, but it must have a battery backup for times when the power goes out. Give them a cell phone that will allow them to contact you anytime. For those who are not as independent as they once were, look into fall alarms and other devices that will alert both you and emergency services to a problem, whether it is within or outside the home.

Have a plan in place

Finally, have a plan in place in the event of a winter emergency. A bag of essential emergency supplies is a good idea, and so is a plan of action for how to handle the situation — will you come to them? Should they just sit tight? Who should they call? Having a plan in place can help both you and your elderly loved one feel confident when winter rolls around.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.