The holidays are over, out-of-town guests have returned home and our elderly family members are often left to resume quieter and more independent lives during what can be the harshest time of the year in terms of weather. Not sure how you can be most supportive? Here are the 10 best ways to help seniors both emotionally and physically during the blustery winter months.
1. Inventory Clothing
Make sure your beloved seniors are ready for the cold temperatures by taking an inventory of their clothing and outerwear. The elderly can become physically cold quickly, so keep extra sweaters in a convenient location, place blankets around the house, and ensure an outerwear wardrobe of a warm coat, hats, gloves, and boots with rubber soles for good traction in the snow.
2. Fire Protection
Candles, electric blankets that aren’t properly functioning and space heaters are all fire hazards. Invest in some battery-operated, flame-free candles for ambience and schedule maintenance of the HVAC system to ensure all furnaces are working properly. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should all have new batteries, and every home should have a fire extinguisher available in the kitchen.
3. Emergency Preparation
Winter storms can mean a loss of electricity and heat, and outside conditions that make even local travel too dangerous for the elderly. Set up a winter emergency kit with flashlights (make sure they all have new batteries), hand and foot warmers, extra medicine, and a phone number and addresses of a local winter emergency shelter (towns will often open a community center, or go to redcross.org  for a list of shelters). Stock the pantry with canned vegetables, fruit, protein and grains that can be prepared without heat or gas.
4. Payment Plans
Set up payment plans for utilities so that the senior is not blindsided by an enormous heating bill in February, often the coldest and most expensive heating month. Typically, utilities offer payment plans that spread out financial responsibility over ￼￼￼￼12 months, softening the blow during peak usage months.
5. Schedule Social Time
Seniors need to socialize as much, if not more, during the winter, when many people spend more time at home to avoid the elements. Contact a local senior center and arrange a schedule for visits to play games, attend lectures and participate in field trips to cultural events. Senior centers often provide transportation to and from the center. Neighbors are also often willing to help, as are recent college grads looking to earn extra money.
The North Shore Senior Center , with campuses throughout the North Shore area, is a phenomenal source for information and educational enrichment, and provides a bustling, upbeat activities hub for seniors.
6. Get Online
The internet provides a wealth of opportunities for seniors to interface with family members, whether it’s using Skype or FaceTime or exchanging emails. Help your senior family member to set up accounts, and let them experience the joy of face-to-face conversations with grandchildren who might live in other states. Also, set up accounts with food and other essentials delivery services , perhaps even surprising the senior with a gift of Amazon Prime . Nothing beats the convenience of two-day free shipping when homebound during a snowstorm.
7. Create an Exercise Plan
Exercise is important for physical and psychological well being, but winter weather can make it difficult for seniors to keep to an exercise schedule. Bring the exercise class to them by creating an indoor plan such as climbing stairs and doing laps around rooms, and purchase at-home exercise DVDs designed for seniors.
“Research suggests that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cognitive decline,” says Melissa Tucker, director of the helpline and support services at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago . “Exercise appears to play a role in protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and also in living better with the disease if you have it.”
8. Hire Help
Nothing replaces another person being in close touch with the elderly. If family members live too far for daily and/or weekly visits, consider investing in hired help for at least a few hours a couple times a week. The caretaker can make sure everything is stocked, help drive to appointments, and check for any signs of weakening health. When visiting, it’s also a good time to introduce the senior to an assisted living or nursing care facility that might be in his/her future, but before it becomes urgent.
“Take a half day and tour some facilities and get brochures,” says Victoria Wolpoff, vice president of marketing and public relations for The Alden Network . “That way, if you live out of state, and you get a call that grandma slipped and fell, you know where to call for help.”
9. Stagger Family Visits ￼￼￼￼
Hold a family meeting to create a visit calendar. When all family members live out of town, it’s imperative to spread out visits throughout the winter months instead of all visiting at once. During the visits, investigate for cognitive changes and physical challenges.
“We tell people to look for changes in behavior, checking to see that pots and pans aren’t burned, [and checking for] bumps and bruises, and dents in cars,” says Sam Cross, administrator at Broad Street Home Care , which offers customized home care service for seniors in the Chicago area.
10. Hang a Memo Board
Position a dry-erase board near the front door with reminders about what to do before leaving the house, such as checking the gas gauge on the car to make sure it’s not near empty and dressing for the weather.
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