Weathering Old Man Winter

By Madison Hill

The New Year is notorious for bringing cold weather conditions.  I usually just grit my teeth and bear the cold with a few (million) complaints here and there.  For mom, however, the cold presents some serious chilly-challenges.  This winter, I’ve found that with a little bit of proper preparation, I can conquer the cold’s attempts on our lives.  I thought I’d pass on a few things that I learned in order to help those of you out there facing a similar battle.  Although mom lives with me, this is a relatively recent development (compared to the years that she lived on her own).  Below are the top three tips I have for beating Old Man Winter.

1.     Keep in Touch

During the dark winter months, it’s important to maintain steady contact with your elderly loved ones.  Whether it’s via phone call or a face-to-face visit, make sure that there is heat in the house (and that it’s on), running water (no frozen pipes), and plenty of food (if it’s too inclement to drive/go outside, grocery shopping falls to the wayside).

Mom had a terrible habit of not turning her heat on in order to save money.  I drew the line when I visited and it felt colder in her home than it did outside.  I called her gas company and worked with them to put her on a heating plan so that her bills wouldn’t be beyond her capacity to pay.  If you can’t always pay a visit, call upon a trusted neighbor or family friend to check in on your seniors—don’t put all of the pressure on yourself.  Since mom had lived in the same neighborhood for decades, I knew the neighbors well.  If I was ever unable to visit (and I felt it was urgent) all I had to do was call one our neighborhood friends and they were able to put my nerves at ease.

2.     Layer Up

Since we all know how mom felt about turning on the heat, I implemented plan B in addition to my first course of action (leveling the heating bill).  My plan B was simple yet effective—I provided mom with enough warm blankets to last a lifetime.  Additionally, I made sure that they were located conveniently throughout the home (bedroom, living-room, closets, etc.).  Now that she has moved in with me, I have taken the same steps to make sure she can get warm if need be.  I have blankets littered across our home—and mom loves it!  I can usually find her every morning snuggled up under one watching The Price is Right.  

Base-layers aka thermals aka long-johns are a fantastic investment that will last for years.  Getting mom to wear these occasionally presents a battle—especially if she flat out refuses.  However, I have found that taking her shopping with me, and letting her pick the type of base-layer that she likes increases the odds that she’ll wear it by at least 90%.  A good pair will help provide insulation without adding extra, uncomfortable bulk.  Fleece, wool, and down are all excellent insulators, and provide great thermal retention.  

Gloves and thick socks can help keep extremities warm, especially when circulation is a concern.  For us, a simple reminder to mom to put her gloves on usually does the trick – she doesn’t enjoy having cold hands (who does?) so this is one of our go-to favorite ways to keep them warm.  A warm cap will also help increase overall warmth, as much of the body’s radiated heat escapes through the noggin.  Mom’s not a huge fan of hats because “They ruin my hair” (insert my exasperated eye-roll here).  I have found that ear-bands have made a (cute!) comeback, and mom really enjoys these – so this is our compromise on days when hats are a “no.”

3.     Lend a Hand

If you live in an area that receives snow this time of year, be aware that shoveling can be a daunting (if not impossible task) for many seniors.  I used to pack up my daughters and go shovel mom’s house for her whenever we got snow.  Fortunately, we don’t get much heavy snow where we live.  But if you live in a place that gets sizeable snowpack and you are unable to clear out snow for your loved ones, look into available charity options. Church groups, scout groups, and other community organizations often volunteer for jobs like this.  Ice (slips, falls, breaks, etc.) is a legitimate hazard for everybody regardless of age (I seem to take a bad fall at least once a winter).  De-icer is a miracle worker, and will clear walkways and driveways in a manner of minutes.  I just keep a few bags of the mix on hand, and periodically make sure that our home is iceless.  Additionally, many shoe retailers sell cleat-like shoe attachments that help increase traction in slick conditions.  These are usually inexpensive, last for years, and fit almost any type of shoe.  These have been great for walks in the park.

Although the winter months can be dark and cold, a little preparation will go a long way.  By following these simple steps, you can help transition your elderly companions through what can be a difficult season.  Don’t be afraid to utilize neighbors, charity groups, and friends to help you make sure that your loved ones stay warm and safe this winter.

Madison Hill is a freelance writer with a kreplach obsession.  When she’s not ruling (yes, totally ruling) the Yahtzee scene, you can find her scrapbooking and writing about homecare.

photo credits:  photopin cc