Department on Aging provides tips to keep seniors safe, warm

By on February 2, 2010

Springfield—With the winter fully set in, Illinois Department on Aging Director Charles D. Johnson is encouraging older people and their families to recognize that winter poses a special threat to seniors.

“Seniors should get their furnace checked each year to make sure it’s working properly,” Johnson said. “The state has a number of resources available that seniors can use so they aren’t left to make difficult decisions like, whether to pay their heating bills or take their prescription medications this winter. I hope that older persons, their families and those who care for them will take these practical, simple steps to prepare for the colder temps ahead.”

Seniors should make sure they set their thermostats above 65 degrees. Older persons are at a higher risk to falling ill during the cold winter months. People who lower the thermostat to reduce heating bills risk developing hypothermia, a potentially fatal condition in which the body temperature drops dangerously low. At increased risk are older people who take certain medications, drink alcohol, lack proper nutrition and who have conditions such as arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

In dealing with cold weather, seniors are encouraged to:
• Dress in layers, both indoors and outdoors.
• Keep active. Make a list of exercises and activities to do indoors when you can’t get out.
• Eat well and drink 10 glasses of water daily. Stock up on extra non-perishable food supplies, just in case.
• Keep extra medications in the house. If this is not possible, make arrangements now to have your medications delivered.
• Have your house winterized. Be sure that walls and attics are insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. Insulate pipes near outer walls, in crawl spaces and attics that are susceptible to freezing.
• Make sure you and your family know how to shut off the water supply in case pipes burst.
• Prepare your vehicle by checking wipers, tires, lights and fluid levels regularly. Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal. Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season. Plan long trips carefully and travel by daylight with at least one other person.
• Protect against fire. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, buy one. Make sure space heaters are at least three feet from anything flammable. Do not overload extension cords.
• Do not shovel snow or walk in deep snow. Plan for someone else to shovel the snow. The strain from the cold and hard labor could cause a heart attack; sweating can lead to a chill and even hypothermia.

For more information about program services to assist older adults in Illinois and their caregivers, call the Department on Aging Senior HelpLine at 1-800-252-8966, or for TTY (hearing impaired use only) call 1-888-206-1327.