COLUMBUS — As anyone who has lived here for a while can tell you, Ohio winters are unpredictable and can bring a variety of weather, including snow, ice, extreme cold, wind and more.
These can create significant hazards for all Ohioans, but especially our elders. The Ohio Department of Aging and the STEADY U Ohio initiative encourage all Ohioans to have a plan and know how you will be “Winter READY | Winter STEADY!”
“As we age, our bodies don’t react to extreme conditions the same way they did when we were younger. For a variety of reasons, older adults tend to be slower to adjust and are at increased risk for injury from slipping and falling,” said Bonnie K. Burman, Sc.D., director of the department. “Your plan for living ‘Well Beyond 60’ should include strategies to minimize your risk from hazards as we face another Ohio winter.”
A good winter preparedness plan should enable you to remain in place for three days if you become unable to leave your home due to weather conditions. The Ohio Department of Aging, a proud member of the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness (www.weathersafety.ohio.gov), offers these tips to be prepared.
• Have an emergency kit that contains, at a minimum, a battery operated radio, flashlight, extra batteries, a loud whistle or bell, food you can open and prepare easily, water (one gallon per person per day), extra blankets and a first aid kit.
• Keep a backup supply of the medications you take every day. Have an ice chest on hand and keep ice packs in the freezer for medications that need to be kept cool.
• Make sure your medical equipment and assistive devices (such as canes, walkers, wheelchairs, lifts, oxygen tanks, etc.) are easy to locate in an emergency. Have spare batteries and non-powered options for equipment that will not work without electricity.
• Designate a safe place to go if it becomes unsafe to stay in your home, such as a friend’s or neighbor’s house or shelter. Have a plan for getting there.
• Be prepared to quickly explain to rescue personnel in an emergency how to help you move safely and quickly (e.g., “take my oxygen tank,” “get my insulin from the refrigerator”).
Being Winter READY also includes knowing how to heat your home safely and effectively. Use only space heaters that have been tested and certified to the latest safety standards. Keep anything that can burn (papers, blankets, etc.) at least three feet way from any heat source. Test your smoke alarms monthly and replace any that are more than 10 years old. Have and practice a fire escape plan.
An older Ohioan falls every two minutes on average, resulting in an injury every five minutes, six emergency department visits and one hospitalization each hour, and three deaths each day. Wintry conditions increase the risk of taking a potentially life-changing spill. However, falls are not a normal part of aging, and most falls can be prevented. STEADY U Ohio, the state’s 360-degree falls prevention initiative offer these tips to stay on your feet this winter.
• Maintain regular physical activity to ensure you have the strength and balance you need to prevent falls. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about easy indoor exercises and seek opportunities to be active.
• Invest in extra lamps, nightlights and exterior lights so that you can always see where you are walking, especially around doorways and stairs. Use the highest-wattage bulbs recommended for your fixtures.
• Coats, gloves, hats and other winter clothing are designed to keep you warm, but items that are bulky, don’t fit well or can catch on nearby objects can increase your risk of falling.
• Wear boots and shoes that fit properly and have soles with good traction. Keep shoes and walking aids (canes, walkers) dry and free of snow, ice, dirt and mud.
• Keep sidewalks and stairs outside your home clean of ice and snow. Make sure steps leading into your home have sturdy handrails that can support you if you slip.
• Keep space heaters, cords and blankets out of walkways. If you must use throw rugs on cold floors, secure them to the floor with tape.
• Carry a cell phone and designate someone to call for help if you need it. Let loved ones know when you are leaving the house and when you expect to be back; call them after you return home.
Find a wealth of tips to help prevent falls at the STEADY U Ohio website, www.steadyu.ohio.gov. Take the online Falls Risk Self-Assessment and learn about A Matter of Balance, a free community program to help older adults learn to see falls as something they can control. Visit often or follow STEADYUOhio on Facebook and Twitter for daily falls prevention tips, and sign up to receive weekly emails with news and resources.
Check On Your Neighbors
If severe weather is forecasted or has just occurred, check on older friends and family members to ensure that they are okay and that they have the resources they need to stay safe and healthy. Do they need medical attention? Do they have safe food and water? Is the temperature in their home comfortable? Who will they call if they need help? If someone appears ill or is injured, call 9-1-1 immediately.
The Department of Aging works with the state’s 12 area agencies on aging to make sure that each community has a plan for assisting older adults during weather emergencies. Your area agency can also help you identify resources, such as energy assistance, chore service and minor home repairs that can help you stay warm and safe this winter. Call 1-866-243-5678 to be connected to the agency serving your community.
Follow the Ohio Department of Aging on Facebook and Twitter for more winter safety information and resources all winter long.
Reach the Ohio Department of Aging at 1-800-266-4346 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.