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Winter Safety for Seniors

A fresh snowfall can indeed turn New York City into a magnificent winter wonderland. But for seniors enjoying the beauty of winter, it also means keeping warm both in and out of your homes, as well as taking extra precautions when you are out and about on icy streets. Here are some helpful tips on how to stay safe this winter.

Preparing Your Home for the Winter

Take steps to prepare your home for winter emergencies well before cold weather hits. In the event of a power outage, the following items should be included in an emergency kit:

  • A portable, battery-operated radio with extra batteries
  • A blanket for each person living in your home
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Candles and safety matches
  • Water for each person living with you (a gallon per person per day)
  • Canned food and a can opener
  • Make sure you have a land line phone in your home. (Cordless phones will not work if a storm disrupts power.) If you have a cell phone, make sure it’s fully charged.

Staying Warm and Safe in Your Home

  • Dress in layers of lightweight fabrics while indoors. If you use a space heater, keep all items including curtains, clothing and blankets away from it.
  • Do not try to heat your home with a gas stove or oven, or use kerosene heaters which are dangerous and illegal in New York City.
  • If there is no heat in your home, dial 311 to obtain information on what you can do. Also, the Home Energy Assistance Program, HEAP, is intended for low income people and may help you pay for your heating bills. Call 311 for information.
  • If the electricity goes out in your home, wear gloves, a scarf and hat to help you stay warm.
  • Also, it is essential that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home are in working order. Push the test button monthly to check.

What’s the Difference Between a Winter Storm Watch and Winter Storm Warning?

A winter storm watch means there is a possibility that a storm will hit your area and you must make sure you have an adequate supply of medications and food in your home. If you have a home health care service, plan ahead by finding out what the plan is in case of a storm.

A winter storm warning means a storm will hit your area and you should stay indoors.

If a loved one is physically or cognitively impaired, if possible, arrange for someone to stay with them during a weather emergency. Failing that, arrange for a neighbor to check on your loved one.

Dressing for Outdoors

The most effective way to keep warm is to dress in layers of lightweight clothing, wear a hat, mittens (better than gloves because your fingers are close together and provide more warmth) and wrap a scarf around your neck. For people with asthma or other breathing difficulties, the scarf can also be placed around the mouth to help protect your lungs in the cold or wind. Wearing a hip protector, which is underwear with shock absorbing pads that fits over your hips, is strongly recommended in case of a fall. Also, make sure to wear lightweight, insulated and waterproof boots which have non-slip soles. If you have to walk on hard packed snow or ice, you can place ice grippers onto your boots, but remember to remove them before walking on smooth surfaces.

Guarding Against Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when more heat escapes from your body than your body can produce. Medical experts believe that certain conditions such as stroke, severe arthritis and Parkinson’s disease as well as certain medications can block the body’s response to cold which makes seniors more susceptible to hypothermia.

Some symptoms are shivering, slurred speech, slow and shallow breathing and general fatigue. Severe hypothermia can lead to cardiac and/or respiratory failure. If you or someone you’re with is suffering from hypothermia, it is essential to get medical attention immediately.

Preventing Hypothermia

  • Limit your time outdoors on cold or windy days.
  • If you must go outdoors, dress appropriately.
  • Dress in layers even if you’re indoors.
  • Eat hot, nourishing meals and drink warm beverages.

Walking on Snow or Ice

If sidewalks aren’t clear of snow, slush and ice, don’t go outdoors unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must, wear lightweight, insulated, water-proof, non-skid boots.

Carry some kitty litter, coarse salt or sand in a plastic bag and throw a handful in front of you before proceeding. Then walk cautiously, taking short flat steps. Remove shoes immediately upon entering your home to avoid indoor falls caused by slippery soles.

Snow Shoveling Tips

People over age 65, especially those with a history of high blood pressure or heart disease, should, whenever possible, avoid the strain of shoveling their own walkways. The risks of severe muscle strains, falls or even heart attack are simply too great.

When you must shovel, use caution, dress appropriately to avoid hypothermia and frost bite, and follow these tips:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Do stretching exercises before you begin shoveling.
  • Shovel at a slow pace and take frequent breaks.
  • Shovel new snow which is lighter than packed, icy snow.
  • Use a small, lightweight shovel.
  • Push snow to the side rather than lifting it. If you must lift it, pick up small amounts and lift with your legs, not your back.
  • If the ground is slippery, use kitty litter, sand or coarse salt under your feet to provide better traction.

Caring for Your Pet in the Winter

When it’s really cold or windy, it’s best to keep your pets indoors as much as possible. If your dog walks on sidewalks that have been salted, make sure to wash the dog’s paws to prevent serious skin irritation. In extreme cold, it is recommended to put a dog sweater or jacket on your pet. If you don’t have one, you can use a tee-shirt!

Winter Driving

Plan ahead and winterize your car before the cold weather hits. It’s a good idea to have the anti-freeze levels checked and if needed, your radiator flushed and filled for easier starting. Make sure your tires are properly inflated, and that includes your spare tire. Check to see if your windshield wiper blades are worn, and replace them if needed. Fill the reservoir with windshield washer fluid to prevent freezing. Be prepared for winter emergencies by keeping an emergency car kit in your trunk.

Remember, dial 911 in case of emergency and stay in your car.

Preparing a Car Emergency Kit

Be prepared for winter emergencies by keeping the following items in your trunk:

First aid kit

Fully charged cell phone & car charger (if you own one)

Ice scraper/snow brush

Road flares or warning lights

Lightweight shovel

Sand, kitty litter or coarse salt

Booster cables

Flashlight with extra batteries

Blanket, clothing/footwear and socks

Energy bars, unsalted nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter and water

Small tool kit          

Wooden matches

Red or white kerchief to signal distress