Winter Weather Safety Guide – For Caregivers

Winter weather in the Midwest is no joke!  These conditions can cause significant inconveniences that put everyone at risk.  When caution is used winter storm situations should not be life threatening.  Winter storms can range from moderate snow to a blizzard that lasts for days.  These storms can also bring about dangerously low temperatures.  Regardless of the severity of the winter storm, you should be prepared in order to remain safe during these events.

Safety tips for the Home

  • House fires occur more frequently in the winter due to lack of proper safety precautions when using alternate or additional heating sources.  Examples include unattended fires, disposing ashes too soon,  furnace filters, and misplaced space heaters.  Fires that occur during winter storms present greater danger because water supplies may freeze, causing difficulties for firefighters.
  • Check your furnace filter each month and change it when necessary.  Have it serviced each year.
  • If you use gas, wood or kerosene heaters, make sure gases are vented outside.
  • Remove dust from radiators each month and keep furniture and drapes away from radiators.
  • Keep space heaters away from flammable objects, do not keep them on carpets or flammable surfaces or near water.
  • Check extension cords for fraying.  Do not use extension cords under rugs or carpets.
  • Don’t use the kitchen stove to heat the house.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to make the home more energy efficient.
  • Check the batteries for your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Insulate water pipes to avoid freezing and bursting.  Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes form freezing.  open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Take advantage of local heating assistance funds and utility ‘no-cutoff’ programs, if necessary.

Preparing for Winter Emergencies

  • Identify temporary living arrangements in case you are unable to stay in your own home – and have a plan for getting there. Share your emergency contact information with anyone who may need it.
  • Plan for your medical needs.  Have extra medications on hand or identify a pharmacy that can delivery them to you.
  • Have canned food and a can opener and one gallon of water per person per day.
  • Keep batteries and a battery-operated flashlights available.  Use flashlights instead of candles.
  • If you have medical equipment- keep it well maintained.
  • Make arrangements to have leaves, snow and ice removed from your walkways.
  • Keep salt and sand on hand for use in winter months.
  • Replace the cane rubber tip with an ice pick-like attachment on a walker.

Winter Driving Tips

The leading cause of death during winter storms is from automobile accidents. Drive only if absolutely necessary and if you must drive, keep travel in the day, when you are not alone, and stay on main roads.

  • Keep a full tank of gas.
  • Keep a winter emergency supply kit in your car.
  • Listen to local radio, for weather service travel advisories.
  • Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if possible.
  • Let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify the authorities if you are late.
  • Never pour hot water on your windshield to remove ice or snow.  It can shatter.
  • Do not rely only on your car to provide sufficient heat.  If your car breaks down and you are stranded you may need additional clothing to keep you warm.

Safety Tips to Prevent Hypothermia

  • Keep the house temperature no lower than 65 degrees F or 70 degrees if the person is ill.
  • Wear warm clothes and place leg warmers on arms and legs for extra warmth.
  • Use warm blankets.
  • Wear a warm hat outside or a knit hat indoors to keep the body from losing heat.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Keep moving by walking around making muscles work.  Light lifting and stretching can help as well.
  • Remember that individuals with dementia may not understand the risks of cold weather.

Signs of Hypothermia

  • Impaired judgement
  • Shivering
  • Cold pale skin
  • Slow breathing and pulse
  • Slurred or mumbling speech
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination and/or fumbling hands
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • *50% of hypothermia deaths occur in seniors over the age of 75.  Even mild cold can cause hypothermia in the elderly because of compromised circulation or respiratory conditions.

If signs of Hypothermia are present

  • Wrap the person in blankets, give warm fluids and increase the room temperature.
  • Be careful not to re-warm the person too rapidly.  When increasing the room temperature, set a heater to a low setting.
  • Do not give the person alcohol or caffeine.  Be alert to signs of a heart attack.
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Discomfort in the jaw
    • Sweating & nausea
  • Avoid rubbing the person’s skin.
  • Contact a doctor immediately