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Preparing Our Seniors for Winter

Preparing Our Seniors for Winter - A Guide for Keeping Them Safe

By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.

Medicaid Planning Rhode Island
Attorney RJ Connelly III

As the first day of autumn has come and gone, and now, on this first day of October, the weather in New England is starting to shift. At the same time, we may still have warm days ahead, as locals know all too well that the weather can change rapidly in this region. Over the next few weeks, the humid 80-degree weather of early September will give way to a crisp chill in the air and the magnificent colors of the changing foliage. This seasonal transition also signals the upcoming late fall and winter months, which bring with them the challenge of high heating bills and difficulty traveling. The harsh weather conditions of these seasons make it essential to have a reliable heating system in place to keep homes warm and comfortable.


"The upcoming winter in New England could result in significant issues, both financially and health-wise, for individuals and the economy as a whole," said professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "Given that, it is imperative to find ways to minimize the heating bills while ensuring that everyone, especially the elderly, remains safe and warm during the chilly months ahead. It's a challenging task, but with careful planning and implementation of efficient heating strategies, we can overcome this challenge and make this winter comfortable and affordable for everyone."


Help With Heating Costs

The United States Department of Energy runs the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). It provides full-scale energy efficiency services to eligible households. This program is administered by local agencies, usually those that also provide heating and fuel assistance. The program is designed to help low-income households save money on their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.

The program offers priority services to households with elderly, disabled children six and under, and Native Americans through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Eligibility for the program is based on a maximum gross income that does not exceed 60% of your state's Estimated Median Income. Those who are on TAFDC or SSI are presumed to be automatically eligible.


The services offered by the program include the installation of insulation, sealing air leaks, and replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems. The program also provides education on energy conservation and safety. By making these upgrades, eligible households can expect to see a significant reduction in their energy bills, making it easier to manage their monthly expenses.


"Overall, the Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program is an excellent option for those who are struggling to pay their energy bills," stated Attorney Connelly. "The program provides much-needed support to those who need it most, helping them to save money and live more comfortably."


Homes receive a thorough evaluation of the heating system as well as health and safety testing of all combustible appliances. Local licensed and insured private-sector weatherization contractors complete the work at no cost to the residents. Homeowners and tenants, with their landlord’s permission, are eligible.


To find out if you are eligible for this benefit and how to apply in your state, please click on the LIHEAP icon below, and when you arrive at the site, click on the state you live in.

Checking the Heating System

It is important to prioritize maintenance of the heater in your home. To ensure maximum efficiency, it is recommended that you schedule an annual cleaning and evaluation of your heating system. During this process, the filters will be replaced, and the ventilation system will be checked for any blockages - both inside and out.

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Make sure heating systems are cleaned

In some cases, the exhaust system may be clogged by small animals that may have used the chimney to build nests over the spring and summer. Therefore, it is essential to check the chimney for any debris buildup.


A clogged chimney not only presents a fire hazard but also poses a potential carbon monoxide danger. By taking the time to check your chimney, you can prevent any potential issues and keep your home safe and comfortable.


Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

It's common knowledge that the annoying chirping noise from a smoke detector means it's time to swap out the batteries, but did you know that the detectors themselves also need replacing every decade? Here's how to determine if it's time to replace your smoke detector:

  • Take the unit down from the ceiling. If it is difficult to reach, please seek assistance in doing so.

  • Check the date of manufacture on the back of the device.

  • Remember that smoke detectors should be replaced ten years after their manufacture date.

  • If it's less than a decade old, re-install it on the ceiling or wall.

FEMA recommends testing the batteries on your smoke detectors at least once a month by pressing the test button to ensure the alarms sound. If they don't sound, it's time to replace them.

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The same is true for Carbon Monoxide detectors. They need to be replaced every 5 to 7 years because the detection components become less effective over time and may stop detecting carbon monoxide. First Alert, a leading CO detector manufacturer, advises replacing devices over five years old. Once again, remove the device and check the expiration date on the back.


Portable Heaters

Portable electric heaters are often used to warm up those hard-to-heat areas of the house. However, these devices are responsible for over 30 percent of house fires and 80 percent of home fire deaths. This is why it's crucial to take proper precautions when using them, especially if you're a senior.

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Follow safety rules when using space heaters

To ensure your safety, make sure that your portable heater is clean and the wires are not frayed or loose. It's also essential to check the areas where these devices will be used to make sure there are no fire hazards present. For instance, buildups of paper or clothing can be potential fuel for a portable heater fire, so it's essential to clear out plenty of space. A good rule of thumb is to maintain a clearance of three feet or more around a portable heater.


It's worth noting that some seniors still use antiquated space heaters that don't have a shut-off switch should the heater tip over. This can be incredibly dangerous. If you're using an older space heater, we highly recommend upgrading to a new one with up-to-date safety features that shut the unit down if it is knocked over. This simple feature can make a world of difference and prevent a potential disaster from occurring.


Finally, remind your loved ones not to leave the heater on if it's going to be left unattended. Better yet, consider buying a heater with a timer that can be set should they fall asleep and forget to turn it off. Taking these simple precautions will make a significant difference in keeping you or your loved ones safe and warm during the cold winter months.


Winter Weather Alerts

Winter Weather Advisories - A winter weather advisory is an alert issued by the National Weather Service when there is a possibility of snow, blowing snow, ice, sleet, or any combination of these wintry elements in the forecast. While these conditions may not meet the criteria for a warning, they can still cause travel difficulties and create hazards for those who are unprepared.


Winter Storm Watches - If meteorologists anticipate a severe winter storm, they will issue Winter Storm Watches. These warnings indicate that the weather conditions are ripe for significant winter weather, such as heavy snow, sleet, ice storms, blowing snow, or a combination of these events. It is essential to heed these warnings and prepare for potential disruptions to travel and daily life.


Winter Storm Warnings - If you happen to live in an area where winter storms are frequent, you must be aware of the Winter Storm Warnings issued by the authorities. These warnings are issued when there is a significant winter weather event expected, which could include snow, ice, sleet, blowing snow, or even a combination of these hazards. Such conditions can make travel difficult or even impossible in some situations. It is advisable to delay your travel plans until the weather conditions improve and it is safe to travel. When a Winter Storm Warning is issued, it is crucial to make sure that you are fully prepared for the worst-case scenario. We will discuss some essential preparations that you can undertake to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during such weather events.


Blizzard Warning - In case of a Blizzard Warning, you should be aware that the following conditions are either happening or are likely to occur within the next 12 to 18 hours. This will include:

  • Heavy snowfall and/or blowing snow that will significantly reduce visibility to 1/4 mile or less for at least 3 hours.

  • Strong winds that are consistently blowing at 35 mph or more, or frequent gusts that are reaching 35 mph or more.

Many long-term forecasts are calling for a cold and snowy winter here in the Northeast.

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Storm Preparedness

Living in New England, it's important to be prepared for the inevitable Nor'easter that can knock out power for days or even weeks at a time. It's crucial to have multiple backup ways to stay warm, especially for seniors. Ensure that your loved one has a supply of warm blankets, gloves, and coats to keep them warm in case of power outages.


It's also important to have a supply of canned food that doesn't require heating and a manual can opener in case of an emergency. Check the medicine cabinet to ensure there are enough supplies in case a senior becomes ill. Over-the-counter products like Tylenol should be readily available, but make sure they don't interact with any prescription medication. Additionally, it's crucial that seniors have their flu shot to lessen the severity of the flu, even if it doesn't prevent them from contracting it.


Stock up on paper products like paper towels, bathroom tissue, and facial tissues, as well as several gallons of water in case of an emergency. A battery-powered radio and flashlight should be readily available, and it's important to have a supply of batteries for them on hand. By being thoroughly prepared, you can ensure the safety and comfort of your loved ones during any unforeseen circumstances.

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Slipping Hazards

As we enter the winter months, it's important to be mindful of the various hazards that come with the season, especially for older adults. We all know that ice and snow can be dangerous to walk on, but other hazards can also pose health risks to our elderly loved ones.

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Wet leaves are as dangerous as ice

One of these hazards is wet leaves, which can become a slipping hazard when they fall to the ground. While the vibrant colors of the changing leaves are a sight to behold, they can also clog the gutters and spouts of homes, leading to leaks and roof damage. It's crucial to keep pathways and stairs clean to reduce the chances of falls, which can have life-threatening implications for seniors.


In addition to falling leaves, the fall months often bring mist and fog, which can make the ground even more treacherous. As such, it's important to take extra precautions when walking outside in the mornings. It's always better to prevent a fall than to deal with the aftermath, so make sure to plan ahead and keep your loved ones safe this winter season.


Pets

As winter approaches, we need to consider our pets' safety, just like we do for ourselves. Pets are important companions for seniors and bring a lot of joy and comfort. However, harsh weather conditions can put them at risk. Here are some tips from the ASPCA to ensure that our furry friends stay safe and healthy during the cold season.

  1. It is important to stock up on enough pet food and medicine to last for a while. Winter storms can cause power outages, make roads inaccessible, and trap us inside our homes. Therefore, it is best to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

  2. If you need to evacuate, always take your pets with you. Never leave them behind or tie them to poles or trees, as this can prevent them from escaping high waters in flood-prone areas and reaching safety. Make sure all pets are wearing ID tags with up-to-date contact information in case you get separated.

  3. Never leave your pet outside during a snowstorm, as it can be extremely dangerous for them. Consider providing short-haired or smaller dogs with a coat and booties to wear during walks to protect them from the elements and cold temperatures. Remember that if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for your pet.

  4. After taking your dog for a walk, thoroughly wipe off their paws and belly with a moist washcloth. Snow-melting salt can be painful to dogs’ feet and cause illness if ingested. Clumps of snow can also accumulate between toes and cause pain. Therefore, it is important to clean them thoroughly to avoid any discomfort or health issues.

  5. During the winter, outdoor cats sometimes seek shelter underneath cars. Before starting your car, bang loudly on the hood to allow cats enough time to escape to a safe location.

These tips will help ensure our pets stay safe and healthy during the cold season.


Emotional Health During Winter

Taking care of an elderly family member or friend can be a challenging task, especially if you are unable to be with them all the time. To ensure their well-being, it's essential to engage them in activities that keep their minds and bodies active. One great option is to have them join a local senior center.

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Winter weather can isolate seniors

Senior centers offer a variety of programs and activities that cater to seniors' needs, such as exercise classes, arts and crafts, and social events. Besides keeping them busy and focused, senior centers provide a community of other seniors to interact with, which can be essential for mental health. Additionally, the staff at these locations can keep you informed if your loved one is sick or behaving differently.


If joining a senior center is not feasible, you can find out what hobbies your loved one enjoys and buy them the necessary materials to pursue them. You can also consider getting them up to date with computers and social media so they can stay in touch with friends and family. Don't forget to call or video chat with them regularly to provide emotional support and check on their well-being.


Finally, it's helpful to have the phone number of a neighbor who can check on them if you have immediate concerns. By taking these steps, you can ensure that your loved one remains healthy, happy, and engaged.


Attorney Connelly emphasized the importance of having a comprehensive plan in place to minimize the risks associated with wintry weather for seniors. He stated that a well-thought-out plan can go a long way in ensuring the safety and well-being of our seniors during harsh weather conditions. He also expressed his hope that the information provided in today's blog will be helpful in creating such plans.

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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise that you consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider for advice.

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