Tilly and Harold are in their early 80’s and live in their fifty year old home. Tilly and Harold are relatively healthy for their ages and are living on their fixed retirement that hasn’t increased since Harold retired thirty years ago. Sure, they receive Social Security but with the cost of their medication and typical home energy costs, things are getting pretty tight. Harold and Tilly haven’t had the money to put into re-insulating their home and replacing their windows so the home is pretty drafty during the winter.
Typical winters for the couple are spent wearing layers and trying to keep warm. They have turned down the heat and the home is chilly all the time. They are feeling particularly chilled with the latest cold spell. Harold has brought out the old space heater purchased when he had planned to tinker in the garage right after retiring. This could be a recipe for disaster…
Unfortunately, this is a typical situation for many of our seniors choosing to age in place. Tilly and Harold are living on fixed pensions and social security. What was a decent retirement package when the couple retired isn’t so decent now. With our seniors living longer, their retirement just doesn’t go as far as it did twenty and thirty years ago.
Keep in mind that seniors tend to run colder as they age due to lack of movement and circulation so the tendency is for seniors to want to make their homes warmer. This can result in the use of space heaters and/or electric blankets. It is important that any heat source is being used safely and correctly.
Following are some tips for winter safety for seniors:
If the furnace is run on gas, have it checked by the gas company for leaks. Consider having it checked yearly. Seniors sense of smell is often dulled with age and a leak could be missed.
If there is a utility (gas furnace, gas hot water tank, gas stove) that has the potential of creating carbon monoxide, have a Carbon Monoxide detector installed in the bedroom and make sure it has regular maintenance. Locate a smoke detector in the bedroom and make sure that the batteries are changed often.
Heat sources such as space heaters and radiators should be located away from beds. They should be the kind that turn off if they tip and won’t burn if touched. Do not run the electrical cords under carpets because it can create a fire hazard. Make sure the outlet where the space heater is plugged in will not over heat while heater is in use.
Do not plug a space heater into an electrical extension cord that is not rated for this use. Watch that extension cords are not kinked or out where they can create a tripping hazard.
There should be nothing on top of electric blankets. Do not allow the electric blanket to be set on high because there is a potential for burns if the senior falls asleep with it on. A senior may not feel a burn until it is too late because of reduced circulation. Make sure the electric blanket is newer so that it will automatically turn off after a certain period of time. Electric blankets should not be tucked-in and the manufacturer’s instructions should be closely followed.
Consider the entry and exterior entrance areas for potential unsafe areas. Make sure the flooring has a textured surface or add a walk-off carpet to the area. These surfaces can be very unsafe if the areas are wet. Consider adding non-slip tape to steps. Winter can be very hard for seniors because they may not have extra funds for winter heating needs. Their homes are often inadequately weatherized either because of normal aging and wear and tear or because of lack of proper maintenance. Consider that maintenance becomes very difficult for some of our seniors due to reduced flexibility and health issues or because of a lack of funds.
Do you know of a senior who could use some help winterizing? With some common sense and a few precautions, you can help a senior have a safe and comfortable winter. Help them to have the comfort and warmth they need but please make sure they do so safely.