Getting Through the Winter Months Safely

A fresh layer of snow can certainly be beautiful, but the cold winter months can pose significant dangers: slips and falls; accidental fires; illness; and more. Here, we share some tips for winter safety that will ensure a safe view of that winter wonderland.

Your Home:

  • Insulate windows to minimize drafts. For ideas on how to insulate, visit ApartmentTherapy.com.
  • A portable heater can heat up a room quickly, but there are certain precautions to take to prevent a fire:
    • Use a unit that’s been certified by UL, which tests these products for safety.
    • A space heater that has an automatic shut-off will help to prevent a fire if someone forgets to turn it off before leaving the room or going to bed.
    • Do not place the heater within three feet of bulky curtains, furniture or flammable items.
    • Keep children and pets away from space heaters to prevent accidental burns.
  • Install or repair railings on outside stairways and walkways to increase safety when walking on snow and ice.
  • Since it gets dark early during the winter months, be sure to have adequate lighting around the perimeter of your house.
  • Test the batteries in your fire/smoke/carbon monoxide monthly, and replace them twice annually during daylight savings time.
  • Do NOT use an oven to heat your home.
  • If you use your fireplace, get your chimney cleaned. “Dirty chimneys can cause chimney fires,” according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, whose article, “The Facts About Chimney Fires” addresses the signs of a chimney fire, the effects of a chimney fire on your chimney and more.

Your Car:

  • Weather-specific supplies can come in handy in the event of a breakdown, accident or getting stuck on the road during a winter storm:
    • An emergency kit should include a heavy blanket, water, jumper cables, a warm hat and gloves and a bag of cat litter, salt or sand to increase traction when needed. It’s also good practice to always keep a cell phone charger in your car.
    • Snow shovels and ice scrapers are always necessary in the winter and good supplies to keep in the car.
    • The AAA offers plenty of tips on how to effectively winterize your car.
    • In the event of a first aid emergency, a first aid kit with the following items will be critical:
      • Bandages in varying sizes
      • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
      • Tweezers
      • Scissors
      • Gauze
      • Cotton balls
      • Antiseptic cream
      • Hand sanitizer

Yourself:

  • One of the most effective – and easy – ways to protect yourself in the cold winter months is to get a flu shot. This annual vaccination can ward off moderate flu complications like a sinus or ear infection to more serious complications like “inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure),” according to the Mayo Clinic. Those most susceptible to complications from the flu include children, pregnant women, adults over the age of 65 and individuals with certain chronic medical conditions. To find out where you can get a flu shot, go to the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder
  • Wash your hands regularly to keep germs at bay. This is especially true after using the bathroom, before preparing food, coming in from the outside, after touching animals and when you or someone else in the house is sick and potentially spreading germs to various surfaces.
  • Older adults’ bodies have changed as a result of aging, and hyperthermia (when one’s body temperature drops to a dangerous level) is an increased risk. To prevent hypothermia, HealthyAging.org suggests the following precautions:
    • When outside, wear several layers of clothing, but…
    • Don’t stay outside for too long, and keep your clothing dry
    • Keep your home’s temperature at 65 degrees or higher
  • For additional ways to protect yourself in the cold, visit HealthyAging’s Winter Safety Tips for Older Adults.

In General:

The following can be extremely helpful for those who live alone or have older loved ones who lives alone.

  • Check in on him/her and ensure that s/he’s prepared to hunker down inside for a few days if necessary.
  • Make sure there’s enough food in the fridge and enough bottled water and canned food to get him/her through a storm.
  • If your loved one takes daily medication, be sure there’s at least a week’s supply.
  • Ask a neighbor to:
    • clear your loved one’s walkway after a snow storm and spread snow or ice melt
    • bring in the mail
    • put out the trash
    • walk your loved one’s dog
  • Isolation can lead to depression. And during the winter, when there’s not a lot of daylight time, the darkness can contribute to feelings of loneliness. Call daily or visit your loved one whenever possible to reduce his/her risk of isolation.
  • If your loved one wears a robe around the house, be sure that robe won’t get caught underneath his/her feet; it could cause a fall.
  • If you’re worried that your loved one might need support regularly, consider hiring a caregiver from a home care agency who can ensure your loved one is safe, warm, fed and not alone.

Finally, for more tips on how to safeguard your home and prevent falls, download Right at Home’s free Fall Prevention Guide.

With the proper planning, getting through the winter safely and without incident can be a reality for you, your family and your elder loved ones.

Lauren Schiffman
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