As we head into the new year, there hasn’t yet been much snow here in Southern New England. But, as anyone who lives here long enough knows, this is probably the calm before inevitable winter storms.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) annual winter outlook for 2018-2019 predicts a milder winter throughout much of the U.S., with a colder and wetter season in southern states—and possible extreme cold in the Northeast, depending on the movement of arctic air masses, known as the Arctic Oscillation.
Whatever we’re in for, it’s essential to have a good plan in place for your aging loved one before a major winter storm hits. Snow, ice and coastal flooding can wreak havoc on your or another caregiver’s ability to reach your loved one during a severe storm. Extreme cold poses serious risks for a fragile adult’s health.
Here are some tips to help you keep your loved one safe, whatever winter has in store:
Before a Winter Weather Event
- Be informed. Sign up for local weather alerts.
- Create and review an emergency plan for your loved one. How will they get medical treatment or home health care if you cannot leave your home or providers cannot get to them?
- Assemble an emergency kit, including extra winter clothing and blankets.
- Be sure that they have non-perishable food on hand and needed medications.
- Know locations of nearby public shelters.
- Prepare for possible power outages. Equip your loved one’s home with flashlights, spare batteries, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio. Ask neighbors to check on their well-being. See more tips for power outages here.
- Check that their heating system is in proper working condition and that fuel levels can last through the storm.
During the Storm
- You and your loved one should minimize outdoor activities. Drive only if absolutely necessary and with appropriate equipment (snow tires, AWD, clean windshield and working wipers).
- Keep pets safe.
- Check in with your loved one to be certain they are wearing warm clothing and using heat (not trying to save money by keeping on the oven!)
After the Storm Passes
- Continue to monitor weather conditions and your loved one’s safety.
- Call 911 to report emergencies.
- Take your loved one to a warming center or shelter, if needed. But stay off streets until cleared of snow and ice!
- Clear exhaust vents to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from furnaces and be sure any secondary heating systems are well-ventilated.
What to Do if Your Loved One Is Not Safe at Home Alone
- Consider a respite stay, arranged in advance of the storm, at an assisted living or other community that has generators to maintain power.
- Install a system that will notify you if temperature in their home drops below a certain point.
- If your loved one already has private duty help, perhaps extend hours for the caregiver to live-in during the storm.
- Notify police and fire (especially in smaller towns) to watch out for your loved one’s well being.
- Arrange for snow removal with a reliable service. Make sure your loved one understands that it’s not a good idea to hire just anyone walking by, as they could get scammed.
- Watch for warning signs of hypothermia, which can be life-threatening:
- Cold feet and hands
- Puffy or swollen face
- Pale skin
- Shivering (although not always)
- Slow speech or slurring
- Shallow breathing
President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.
For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.
Image: Alice Donovan Rouse