Nobody likes to be cold, but seniors are especially sensitive to the dropping temperatures. As we age, our metabolism slows and causes a decreased response to cold. Thinning skin and a decreased fat layer also make it difficult to conserve heat, and slower circulation reduces heat retention throughout the body.
However, cranking up the thermostat can be expensive and inefficient, especially for seniors on a fixed income. Instead, caregivers can help seniors stay safe and warm by taking a few steps to winterize their homes.
Get out cozy clothes
Switching out your loved one’s wardrobe and placing blankets in convenient and accessible places throughout the home is one of the easiest ways to ease into the fall and winter seasons. Seniors can stay warm by dressing in layers for chilly mornings and warmer afternoons. Locating winter coats, hats, scarves, mittens and sweaters and putting away lightweight summer clothes is a huge help for morning routines.
Take a safety sweep
Now’s the time to check carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors throughout the house. Replace batteries as needed; nothing is worse than a middle-of-the-night beep from a smoke detector.
Schedule preventive maintenance
Ensuring furnaces and gas fireplaces are in good working order before they are running full tilt will give you and your loved one peace of mind. Changing filters now can prevent an expensive maintenance call later.
Doors and windows often invite in the chill. Cover any air leaks with weatherproofing strips and caulk to seal leaks. Thick curtains (or curtain liners) can also help retain the heat in the home. Encourage your loved one to draw the curtains at night and open them during sunny days. Finally, insulating the attic is one of the most efficient energy saving options and can be a surprisingly easy DIY: Buy rolls of unfaced insulation (available at any hardware store) and unroll it on the floor of the attic. Make sure the spaces between the joists are full of insulation. Add an additional layer if necessary and enjoy the warmth.
Program the thermostat
Programmable thermostats have become simple to install and easy to use. Consider turning the heat down a bit at night when your loved one is warm in bed under the covers. A programmable thermostat can save on both heating and cooling costs.
Check the exterior
Many winter problems start outside. Gutters should be cleared of debris so they don’t fill with ice or back up into the attic or walls. Check for dead tree limbs before they’re weighed down with snow and ice. Seal any holes in the house’s foundation to keep animals from crawling inside for shelter. Purchasing ice-melt, salt and sand before the first winter storm will ensure supplies are on hand when you need them.
Winterize water pipes
Busted pipes are inconvenient and expensive. Avoid the mess and hassle by draining outdoor water spigots and winterizing pipes by locating the water shutoff (often in a basement or crawl space) and turning it off at the source. For extra protection, a styrofoam cover can be attached over the outdoor spigots to prevent freezing.
Prepare for the worst
Creating an emergency kit will help your loved one feel safe and prepared this winter. Extra water bottles, candles, matches, flashlights (and batteries) and a charged cell phone power bank (and cord) are helpful in case of a power outage. Extra flashlights should be stored by the bed in case of nighttime power loss. Ensure the emergency kit can be easily accessed in a power outage. Canned food and other non-perishable items should be located in an accessible spot—and don’t forget a can opener!
Look into local programs
Many states offer home weatherization programs for seniors with services including installing attic and wall insulation, HVAC repair or replacement, and water heater repair or replacement. Many of these programs are income-based and also include a focus on maximizing a home’s energy efficiency.
Prepping your loved one’s home to be able to withstand the winter chill will improve safety, efficiency and enjoyment this fall and winter season.