Even the heartiest among us can feel a little beaten down by ferocious winter weather events. Frigid weather can come on quickly, with little warning, and can surprise us with unexpected severity or duration. For the more vulnerable of us, such as the elderly or disabled, this is particularly complicated.

Not only can driving or walking conditions become exceptionally perilous, but power outages can create potentially life-threatening emergencies. Being stranded, either away from home, or trapped in your own home by extreme weather, can complicate even the simplest tasks.

Do everything you can to create a supportive local community

Having a supportive community is also a tremendous help. Being on good terms with neighbors, even if it is just to say hi, is essential. A willing neighbor could be a life-saver for your elderly family members during an emergency, or if you are unable to reach them.

The failure of a heating system can be tragic to a vulnerable senior when extreme cold hits. Having a neighbor who is willing to look out for your relative until you can come and get them to somewhere warm, will give everyone peace of mind.

Be informed

It’s important to know which sources of information will be the most useful to you in this effort. Understand what it means when a “winter storm watch” becomes a “warning” and keep tabs on road conditions in the areas where your elderly loved ones reside. Be sure all your emergency contact numbers are current.

Be prepared

An emergency preparedness plan should be developed with home-care providers. Talk to them and see what they can offer to assist in this effort.

Supplies running low is one of the bigger concerns for elderly and disabled loved ones during storms. Be sure that medications are stocked, and that at least three days’ worth of non-perishable food and water is on hand, preferably more. Also, don’t forget about pets’ needs as well!

If in-home geriatric care medical service is part of the routine, be sure to plan ahead if it looks like inclement weather is on the horizon. Maybe bump that appointment up a few days.

Here is a list of potential medical needs to consider in preparedness planning:

  • Medications, including a list of active prescriptions with dosage specifics, as well as known allergies.
  • A current list of emergency contacts, including relatives, close friends, and doctors. Be sure that anyone who may potentially be called upon to assist in an emergency is familiar with any medical equipment, and understands how to operate it.
  • Keep a list of the medical devices in use, particularly those that may not be readily apparent, such as pacemakers. Include the manufacturers’ name, and the devices’ serial numbers.
  • General first-aid kit.
  • Extra sets of eyeglasses, hearing aids, oxygen supply, and a backup wheelchair.

Preparedness at home

If a person does get stranded during a winter weather event, it will most likely occur at home. Keeping the home emergency-ready, is perhaps the most critical component of preparedness.

Always ensure that fire extinguishers are placed appropriately, charged up, not expired, and that everyone is familiar with their locations and operation.

Monitor the condition and functionality of portable heaters, fireplaces or other non-electric heat-sources, as well as critical appliances.

A functioning non-electric cooking device such as a propane camp stove should be on hand if the home is equipped with an electric range.

Be sure all heat-sources and venting apparatuses are free of debris and have adequate clearances around them.

A good supply of batteries can also be of critical importance. Monitor the state of the batteries in smoke / CO detectors, as well as flashlights and emergency radios. Make sure you have spares for all these devices.

Equipping the homes of vulnerable or elderly individuals with photo-sensing exterior lights, so that they will automatically turn on when it gets dark, will help the occupants navigate the outdoors safely if necessary.

A well-lit interior will also mitigate the risk of an accident, which could be catastrophic if conditions may prevent help from arriving at the scene in a timely manner, or at all.

It is also a good idea to have a back-up generator ready to go during a power outage, especially if your loved one is dependent on oxygen or other electric equipment.  Make sure there is enough fuel for the generator and care staff is familiar with how to operate it in case of emergency. 

Preparedness away from home

Of course, it’s safest to remain at home during severe weather, but if one must go out and brave the elements, make sure you allow plenty of time to arrive at the destination. Hurrying when road conditions are poor significantly exacerbates the risk of accident. There are many organizations to assist your loved ones in their community if needed.

If an excursion is necessary, be sure that your loved ones know to inform someone of their destination and expected time frame. Be attentive to winter weather advisories and travel warnings, and take them seriously.

Keeping a cell-phone on their person is also an excellent idea. If an elderly person is technology-averse, set the phone up for them to make emergency calls with as little navigation as possible.

Also encourage them to dress more warmly than they may think is necessary. One can always remove layers, but being caught out in a winter storm with inadequately warm clothing does not have such a simple remedy.

Be sure that walkways and driveways are cleared of snow and debris. Shoveling these areas for our aged loved ones allows for lower-risk freedom of movement around the property if necessary.

Use road-salt to reduce the slip-and-fall risk. Sand or kitty-litter are good substitutes if salt is not available. Shoveling and salting should be done as soon as possible after the storm subsides enough to allow for these actions.

Winterize your vehicle, and those of your elderly or disabled loved ones. Ideally, this should be done before the first winter snow falls.

Keep their vehicle stocked with an extra hat, scarf, gloves, and blanket, as well as an ice-scraper. A candle is also a good idea. It can provide life-saving heat if a car is caught in a snow drift.

Even if the person is not able to use a snow shovel, perhaps someone else will be able to, so the car should include one of those.

An extra jug of cold-weather wiper fluid should be kept on hand as well. If not in the vehicle, then certainly in the garage.

During a storm

You should check on them in person as frequently as is reasonable. If you can’t do that yourself, make sure you have the telephone numbers of one, or preferably two, of their neighbors.

Continued maintenance of walkway and driveway shoveling, keeping handrails clear of ice and snow, checking supply levels, and monitoring for proper usage of potentially dangerous appliances such as space heaters will minimize risk. As will offering to drive if an outing becomes necessary.

After the storm

Once the worst has passed, examine the property for damage or any hazards that may have arisen as a result of the storm. Perform any simple repairs that may be too challenging for your elderly or disabled loved ones to accomplish on their own, and assist in scheduling professionals to perform any major repairs that may by beyond your skill level.

Most of all, outside of emergency or critical situations, company is always appreciated by our elderly and disabled loved ones who may already feel somewhat isolated under the best of conditions. The simple act of showing up can mean so much to our dear ones.

By preparing them, their homes, and vehicles for such emergencies, we demonstrate how we honor and cherish our vulnerable loved ones. And riding out a storm becomes much less frightening or stressful for them if they know that they can count on you. Showing up for them means everything.

Taking appropriate precautions to prepare for emergencies is critical to ensuring that our elderly and disabled loved ones come through winter weather safely.

If you would like to speak to one of our Senior Care Managers, please contact us today.