Winter weather can be a real hassle, even for able-bodied people. Just think of all of the work that goes into getting out of the door. You have to bundle up, shovel and salt, and that’s all before you even get to scraping off the car. Now imagine how much more difficult it is for someone with special needs. But that’s not all.
One thing we tend to forget is that just as severe winter weather can be a pain it can also be deadly, particularly for the most vulnerable among us. Included in that number are special needs adults—which includes many elderly people. As is the case for any emergency, the key to survival when severe weather strikes is preparation.
Knowing What You Face Is Half the Battle
The last few days of record-breaking lows across a quarter of the country are a stark reminder of just how bad winter weather can get these days. Sub-zero temperatures that plunge 20 degrees below are not only dangerous to the human body, they can cause your car to stop, pipes to freeze, and the heat to go out.
In order to prevent tragedy you have to be prepared for anything. We found a detailed winter weather checklist for seniors from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). Here is a breakdown about what you face and what you will need to prepare for severe winter weather:
Understanding Winter Weather Alerts
In the event of an emergency, your local news stations will likely break in or scroll weather alerts across the TV or on the radio. However, many people do not know exactly what the different alerts mean. For example:
- A “Winter Storm Watch” (like a tornado watch) means that the potential for a winter storm to hit your area within the next two days is likely. There are 3 other designations:
- “A Storm Warning” means that severe weather is coming – up to six inches of snow or sleet (a quarter inch of ice) – within 24 hours.
- A “Winter Storm Advisory” warns you about the road conditions and is meant to alert you that severe weather is on the way that will make the roads unsafe.
- A “Blizzard” warning will also be accompanied with a weather emergency alert (level 1, 2, 3, or the highest, level 4 when only emergency vehicles are supposed to be on the roads). Blizzards are extremely dangerous because of the gusting winds and snow which can make it impossible to see when you are on the road.
Each of these emergencies presents a number of challenges. They can result in massive power outages. They can practically bury you, your car, or your house in several feet of snow. It can make it nearly impossible for emergency vehicles to reach you. You will need to prepare your house, your car, and your cabinets for these types of weather events by having the right supplies on hand.
Supplies You Will Need
First and foremost in a weather emergency, you will need to be able to get in touch with the outside world and for people to be able to get in touch with you. That can be a problem if there is a power outage. Most people now have a cell phone instead of a land line, but elderly and special needs adults may need assistance with communicating on mobile devices. Make sure to plan ahead:
Have a Communication Plan in Place – Make sure that your loved one has access to a charged cell phone and make sure that they have a portable charger, preferably one that doesn’t need to be plugged in to an outlet. Keep a battery-powered radio on hand so that you can listen to local weather reports. And have a contact chain with a list of people that can call or go check on you or the special needs adult in your care.
Have Alternative Sources of Heat Prepared – If the power goes out, you’ll need to stay warm. Do NOT use a gas stove to heat the house.The risks of carbon monoxide poisoning are too great. The best alternative is a fireplace, but if you don’t have one, you can use a portable space heater or kerosene heater. Again, heaters can be just as dangerous—especially kerosene. Make sure you have an up-to-date fire extinguisher on hand and a working smoke alarm.
Have Extra Blankets and Lighting – You may be used to keeping candles in the house in case the lights go out. Bad idea. Actually you’ll want to keep flashlights or lanterns on hand. They are much safer and run much less of a risk of starting a fire. You also should keep lots of extra blankets both in your house and in your car. Layer up clothes and coats if necessary to keep warm.
Have a Stock of Non-Perishable Foods – Any time an emergency is expected, grocery stores are ransacked. You can be prepared without having to rush to the store if you keep these staples in your pantry at all times:
- A Large Case or Drum of Drinking Water
- Bread and Crackers
- Pet Food (if you have a pet)
- Dried Fruit
- Powdered Milk
Have Ice and Snow Clearing Equipment on Hand – Every winter, make sure you have a bag of ice melt or sand to melt snow and ice from your stairs and walkways. In a pinch, kitty litter works the same way. If you have a car, you will need a car charger for your cell phone, a spare tire, extra blankets and winter clothes, a shovel, road salt, a case of drinking water, snacks, and a really good emergency roadside kit.
If you have canned good stocked up, make sure you have a can opener too! And chances are you will need medicine or medical equipment. Make sure to keep your prescriptions nearby along with a first aid kit. You’ll also want to stow away a large pack of batteries for your radio, flashlights, portable heater, etc.
5 Important Safety Tips to Keep Our Elders Safe
Panic is the enemy when an emergency strikes. Preparation is the key. When you have all of the above on hand, you can rest with a little more peace of mind that you and your loved one can handle anything that comes your way when severe weather strikes. Here are a few more tips to keep our elders safe:
- Kerosene heaters are the cause of many fires every year and therefore have been banned in some places. Make sure it’s legal to have a kerosene heater where you live.
- Space heaters can be dangerous too. Never use a space heater near water, furniture, curtains, blankets or anything flammable.
- Stay tuned to your local emergency broadcasts for instructions and updates.
- Do NOT use a generator indoors—that includes the garage.
- Let your faucets drip to keep your pipes from freezing. If they do freeze, use a hair dryer (if you have electricity) to unfreeze them.
Get Help Coping with Severe Weather
Besides the threat of weather and road safety, cold temperatures like the ones we have been experiencing can be lethal to the elderly. A simple cold or the flu could end in death. Trying to do it all on your own is not safe. A full 30% of adults 65 and older suffer from severe falls that cause injury every year. In severe winter weather, those types of falls become much more likely.
At Hands from Heaven LLC we provide escort transportation services or door-through-door help. If you or someone you know would like to learn more about our Adult Day Care services, contact us anytime—and stay safe!