It's wintertime ... here's how to stay safe and healthy when the weather outside is frightful

Monday, December 31, 2018

Walk like a penguin

Winter months often provide some of the most beautiful outdoor scenes, but winter is also unpredictable. Winter storms can occur quickly and without warning, causing power outages, stranding people in their homes or cars, and creating unsafe driving and walking conditions. 

Seniors and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable during severe winter weather and should take extra precautions to be prepared for whatever Mother Nature conjures up.

Here are some tips to help older and disabled adults stay safe in winter weather:

  • Check-in on elderly family and neighbors. If you’re at all concerned about someone’s safety, don’t let him or her put you off. Stop by if you can.
  • Clear walkways and handrails of snow and ice. Put down salt or other ice melter. Encourage seniors to stay inside. Falls often spell disaster for older adults. Bring in mail and newspapers for them.
  • Check supplies of food and emergency items like flashlights, batteries, and battery-powered radio.
  • Check to make sure a space heater is being used properly: plug into outlet, not extension cord. Keep at least 3 feet away from anything that could burn, including the wall.
  • Plan ahead for any emergency power needs of mechanical medical equipment.
  • Offer to drive, if someone must get out (pick up a prescription, medical appointment, etc.),
  • Be a friend. Some seniors can get very isolated and stormy weather can make it worse.
  • Once the storm as passed – inspect property as soon as possible for damage. You may be able to help an older loved one with repairs or insurance matters. 

Winter safety tips

At home...

  • Check appliances, furnaces, portable heaters and fireplaces before using them for the first time. Keep all heat sources and vents clear of clutter. Never leave portable heaters unattended.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone knows how to use them.
  • Check batteries in portable radios, flashlights, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are installed and working on every floor in your home.
  • With winter comes shorter, darker days. Consider putting entry or garage lights on a timer or light sensor so they come on as soon as it gets dark each day. Inexpensive adapters are easy to install and can be purchased from your local home center.  Keep your home well lit by installing the maximum wattage bulbs allowed for your indoor light fixtures. Keep extra light bulbs on hand.


  • Stay indoors during severe winter weather. If you do go out, dress warm and tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back.
  • Make sure the path to your door, garage and mailbox are shoveled and free of debris. If possible, have someone shovel for you.
  • Use salt to melt down icy sidewalks and steps or cover the ice with something gritty or non-slippery (sand, cat litter). Ideally you should sprinkle salt before or immediately after a storm.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go in winter weather. Taking your time will reduce your risk of falling, especially if you use an assistive walking device.
  • Walk like a penguin and follow the other safety tips in the box above to avoid falling if you do go out.

In the car...

  • Have your car winterized before the first snow fall.
  • Put an ice scraper in your car. Also check your wipers and wiper fluid. You may want to have an extra gallon of cold weather formula wiper fluid on hand in your car or garage.
  • Keep a hat, gloves, scarf and blanket in your car in the event you become stuck or stranded. 
  • Pay attention to travel warnings or advisories during winter weather. If you do go out, tell someone where you’re going and take a cell phone with you.

Before weather emergencies...

  • Have a 3-day supply of non-perishable food and water (one gallon per person per day). Don’t forget supplies for your pet and any medications you might be taking.
  • Know where to go for information about local weather emergencies, road or business closings (TV, radio).
  • Know the difference between winter storm watches and warnings.
  • Update phone numbers for local emergency officials, as well as nearby family, friends and neighbors. Remember to stay in contact with family during severe winter weather.
  • If you have home health care service, plan ahead with your agency for emergency procedures.

For more information about winter weather safety for all ages, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Winter Weather website

Consider medical needs when planning for emergencies

When planning for emergencies, older adults with special medical needs should remember to include the following:

  • First-aid kit
  • Prescription medicines, list of medications including dosage, list of any allergies
  • Extra eyeglasses and hearing-aid batteries
  • Extra wheelchair batteries, oxygen
  • List of the style and serial numbers of medical devices such as pacemakers
  • Medical insurance and Medicare cards
  • List of doctors and relatives or friends who should be notified if you are injured
  • If you have home health care service, plan ahead with your agency for emergency procedures.
  • Teach those who may need to assist you in an emergency how to operate necessary equipment. Be sure they will be able to reach you.

 (American Red Cross)