Older adults have a higher risk of weather-related health issues and injuries, particularly in the cold winter months. Icy sidewalks and snowy yards and roads make falling a risk for some older adults, and hypothermia and frostbite are real risks when it’s bitter cold outside.
Unfortunately, the solution isn’t merely to spend more time indoors this winter, because without proper maintenance, your home can pose as many risks to your health and well-being as the harsh outdoors. There are some things you can do today to prepare your home for winter and provide a safe, cozy reprieve from the cold, snowy days to come.
According to Jeanie Ramsey, executive director of Evanston, IL-based Services for Adults Staying in Their Homes (SASI), you need to think about many areas around the house when preparing your home for winter. “Be aware of areas around the house that get slippery, like if one of the gutters leaks over the door, make sure that it’s salted. You need to make sure that when you are stepping into the house, the floor won’t be slippery. Prepare a place with a mat, and have a chair ready where you can sit down and take your boots off without having to walk through the house.”
There are more steps you can take to prepare your home for winter, including:
1. Clean the gutters. The best time to do this is after the leaves have fallen but before the first snow falls. Gutters, of course, are there to channel the water (and melting snow and ice) from the roof to downspouts that carry it away from your house. When you don’t clean your gutters before winter, they can clog, making it easier for water and ice to build up to form an ice dam, which can damage your shingles and lead to leaky roofs and other problems requiring costly repairs. If you’re concerned that your roof has been damaged by winters past, have an expert come out and take a look at it. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to find trustworthy help. As this example from Duval Roofing, a Massachusetts company, shows, the BBB offers local company information and customer reviews to help consumers find reliable contractors in their areas.
2. Swap your cooler-weather bedding for warm, winter bedding. After removing your warm-weather bedding, clean and store it so it won’t become damaged in storage over the winter. Replace your warm-weather bedding with a cozy down comforter or wool blankets, and make sure extra blankets are nearby and easily accessible for nights when it’s frigid outside. Or, you could layer a few throw blankets or quilts for added warmth when you need it.
3. Turn off the water supply to outdoor faucets. Drain any remaining water from outdoor hoses and faucets and then shut off the water supply to outdoor faucets. This will reduce the likelihood that pipes will freeze, which can be an expensive crisis to manage mid-winter. If you find any problematic pipes in your house (those that might be prone to freezing), you can try to protect them from the bitter cold by wrapping them in insulated heat tape.
4. Reevaluate your interior lighting. Unfortunately, the days get shorter during the winter, and that means fewer daylight hours. Even during the day, dreary gray skies can contribute to dim lighting inside your home. Adequate indoor lighting can help older adults see better and reduce the risk of falls.
You might swap out some of your lighting fixtures for others that are brighter or cover a broader area, or you can simply add a few additional lighting options in the rooms where you’ll spend the most time. The key is to make sure that lighting is adequate in areas where you’ll be working, bathing, dressing, walking, cooking, or performing other tasks. It’s also a good idea to replace your bulbs. Look for bulbs with a high color-rendering index, as they provide the truest light.
5. Seal and insulate your duct work. If your home has central heating, you could be losing 20 percent of the air that moves through your duct system. Properly sealing and insulating your ducts can not only keep you warmer this winter, but it can save you $120 or more in annual energy costs.
And give your windows and doorframes a onceover as well. Re-caulking around frames and repairing broken or cracked windows will also go a long way toward keeping hot air in and cold air out of your home this winter.
These simple steps are important ways to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months. When temperatures get colder, the last thing you want to deal with are frozen pipes or leaks that damage your home and make it difficult to maintain warmth inside. The good news is that many of the steps you take to prepare your home will also keep you safer and save you money in the long run, too.
Ramsey reminds seniors there are options to help cover the costs of winter home preparation. “Many communities offer free snow shoveling, and different kinds of services to make homes safer. There are programs that will upgrade homes to make them warmer. If older adults need assistance paying their bills, there are state funds available to pay for heating. Usually you can find out about those through a senior center or a social service agency. Most cities have a department that is exclusively for senior services. There’s also an organization called Rebuilding Together, where low-income seniors can apply for grants to get their homes upgraded.” You can also contact your Area Agency on Aging for more resources.
Services for Adults Staying in their Homes (SASI) is a partner organization of Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, which services Chicago and its suburbs with a full continuum of senior care – from caregivers helping seniors stay in their homes to assisted living, skilled nursing and programs dedicated to memory care support.
Marie Villeza was inspired to start ElderImpact.org after she watched her son teach her father how to play Angry Birds™ on his smartphone. In that moment, she realized the importance of bringing the generations together so they can usher each other into the future, breaking down walls of fear and time. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and taking part in her monthly book club.
Image via Pixabay by JamesDeMers