Keeping Older Adults Safe in the Cold Days of Winter

While the snowy scene above can be so inviting to many, it is not to all. As we grow older, the cold of winter can affect us more severely.  Older adults can lose body heat fast – faster than when they were young.  A chill can turn into a dangerous problem before an older person even knows what’s happening. This is what is known as hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature gets very low.  For an older person, a body temperature colder than 95 degrees can cause many health problems, such as a heart attack, kidney problems, liver damage, or worse.  Being outside in the cold, or even being in a very cold house, can lead to hypothermia. But steps can be taken to lower your chance, or that of an older adult, of getting hypothermia.

The National Institute on Aging has a very thorough article on keeping safe in the winter cold.  Included are examples of older adults who have learned to live safely in cold climates, as well as many recommendations for keeping an older adult safe in the cold of winter.  Among the suggestions are:

  • Set the heat at 68 degrees or higher.
  • Dress warmly on cold days even if staying in the house.
  • Wear loose layers when going outside on chilly days.
  • Wear a hat, scarf, and gloves.
  • Don’t stay out in the cold and wind for a long time.
  • Talk to a doctor about health problems that may make it harder to keep warm.
  • Find safe ways to stay active even when it’s cold outside.
  • Ask a neighbor or friend to check on you if you live alone.

If you think someone has hypothermia, call 911 right away. Cover him or her with a blanket. Do not rub his or her legs or arms.


This article was updated in December 2017.


Getting Ready for an Emergency – Be Prepared

The kids are just about back in school, the heat of the early summer months is behind us (at least where I live), and my favorite MLB team is hanging in there. You know what that means? It is just about September!

That also means it is almost Emergency Preparedness Month. In my role as an elder care consultant, I help employees and families of elders “be prepared.” This is in many areas of their lives, and certainly in the area of emergency preparedness. Since this is almost September, with a national month recognizing the importance of planning for an emergency, it is a perfect time for all of us to review our emergency plans, check and update our supplies, and make sure our loved ones (families, elders, children and pets), are as well protected as possible.

A Very Thorough Emergency Preparedness Checklist. They just keep getting better.  There are many websites on the internet to help us with the task of preparing for an emergency. Here are two: red cross, and fema.gov. The available information improves each year.  These two sites are both full of the necessary information, lists in multiple languages, and ideas to help us prepare.  Another, recently published in the “Power of 50” in the July/August 2012 AARP Bulletin, is another comprehensive list.  I’ve included it here.

Elder Specific Needs. If preparing an emergency kit for an elder, consider how a disaster will affect their individual needs. Are they ambulatory? Could they walk out of their residence, or would they need assistance from a caregiver? Medications? Where are they and are they ready so that you can grab and go? Do you have an adequate supply at all times? A 14 day supply is optimal.  Do you have a written list? Include dosage, treatment and allergy information. Any durable medical equipment needs? Wheelchair, walker, etc? Consider other personal needs such as eyeglasses, hearing aids and hearing aid batteries, wheelchair batteries, and oxygen.  By all means, refer to a general list, and add the elder specific items you need.

September is Emergency Preparedness Month – Gather the Supplies with this Checklist

Each year, as we head toward September, thoughts turn to the end of summer, the start of school and, in my line of work, Emergency Preparedness for seniors. Really, it does.  Especially over the past decade, we have had several reminders of the importance of doing this. And each year during this past decade, the resources and ideas have only improved, so that with just a little research, one can find great ideas and checklists for the “must haves” in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. The last time I wrote about this subject was in September 2011, but this year I thought I would start in August, as it is not too early to start preparing and gathering the items listed below. Credit for this list must be given to the “Power of 50” in the July-August 2012 edition of the AARP Bulletin. This list comes right from there. It is truly the most comprehensive list I’ve seen, and I thought it important to share.

The list is made up of 50 items, divided into four categories.

First Aid Kit: this is the list as provided in the referenced article. The kit can be tailored to your, a family member’s, or your elder’s specific needs.

Prescription medications/equipment – 14 day supply

Sterile gloves – 2 pair

Sterile dressings, adhesive bandages

Multipurpose pocket knife


Antibiotic ointment

Burn ointment

Eyewash for flushing contaminants


Aspirin/pain reliever


Anti-diarrhea medication


Sanitation items – toilet paper, plastic bags, hand sanitizer

Toothbrushes and toothpaste

Hearing aids with extra batteries

Spare glasses, contact lenses

Ready-to-Go Container: these are in case of evacuation, and should be taken with you, along with the first aid kit and essential papers.

One gallon of water per person, per day – 3 day supply*

Food: non-perishable, ready to eat items; pet food – 3 day supply*


Battery-powered or hand crank radio


Extra batteries

Spare cellphone chargers

Extra set of car and house keys

Matches – in waterproof container

Lightweight, high insulation blanket

Extra clothing, hat, sturdy shoes

Stay-Home Stash: this list is used if you are stranded where you are.

One gallon of water per person, per day – 14 day supply*

Nonperishable, ready-to-eat food; per food – 14 day supply*

Manual Can Opener

Plates, utensils, napkins

Fire extinguisher

Work gloves

Face masks for dust and mold

Small toolbox including wrench or pliers for utility shutoff

Plastic sheeting and duct tape for sealing windows, doors

Chlorine bleach with medicine dropper**

Extra blankets, sleeping bags

Rain ponchos, towels

Essential Papers: be sure to copy important documents and store with money in a sealed container. Consider electronic backup.

Emergency contact information: family, friends, doctors, insurers

ID cards: photo IDs, passports, health insurance, Social Security

Family records: birth, marriage, death certificates

Medical and immunization records, prescriptions

Wills, insurance policies, contracts, deeds/leases

Recent tax returns

Bank and credit card statements, retirement account records, investment records

Local maps

Video and/or photos of your valuables and the interior and exterior of your home

Cash and change

*Water and non-perishable food should be replaced yearly.

**Instructions for treating non-bottled water for drinking: After filtering water through clean cloths, add 8 drops of regular household liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water; if water is cloudy or muddy, add 16 drops.

Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, LICSW, C-ASWCM, is a Geriatric Care Manager and Elder Care Consultant in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. She works with seniors and their families, and with organizations and their employees or members to help guide them through the challenges of aging and caregiving.

Emergency Preparedness in Northern Virginia

We never know what life has in store for us, but good preparation can better our chances of coming through an event without total disruption to our health or lives. Good preparation for a disaster is possible more than ever. With so much extreme climate activity over the last several years, many national organizations have developed planning resources for our use. Two resources from the Red Cross and the CDC are referenced in my post of September 4, 2011. But if you live in the Northern Virginia area, here are local fire and rescue contacts (websites and/or phone number). Look up the number for your local fire station or department, and make sure you keep them posted in an easily accessible location and on your phone’s speed dial.

Your Local Fire Department Contact


Fairfax County: Fairfax County Fire and Rescue

Arlington County: Arlington County Fire and Rescue

Alexandria City: Alexandria Fire and Rescue

Prince William County: Prince William County Fire and Rescue

Loudoun County: Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Stations

Falls Church City: Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department



This post was updated on March 19, 2017to correct changes and list Northern Virginia Fire and Rescue Contacts.

Seniors and Disaster Planning – September is Emergency Preparedness Month

Living in Northern Virginia, I and millions of others on the East Coast, experienced the 5.9 earthquake, and then four days later, Hurricane Irene.  In both events, at least where I am, luck was on our side.  While the earthquake shook things good and hard, and Hurricane Irene brought down limbs, trees, and knocked out power in my neighborhood, we know we got off easy.  The power was out for only 13 hours and the sound of quiet was a lovely change.  For others in neighboring states and further north, they were not so lucky, and many will be spending years recovering from the devastation of Irene.

Since then, I’ve been reviewing my own emergency plan, as well as those of my elderly and disabled clients.  As a Geriatric Care Manager, I am responsible for assuring my client’s safety and preparedness for a natural disaster.  And this is the time of year, as September is National Emergency Preparedness Month, that is a great time to sit down and review our emergency preparedness plans, make sure we are prepared, and look at previous events and learn any lessons these experiences offer.

There are ample resources provided by national organizations, and available on the internet to help us prepare. The following two websites offer tools to help prepare older adults and their families for a disaster:

From the American Red Cross:  Emergency Preparedness for Seniors

From the Centers for Disease Control:  Personal Preparedness – Emergency Preparedness for Older Adults

If you have not done any emergency planning, please do so now.  If you already have a plan, please take time to review it now.


Caring for the Senior You Love: Learn How to Text

Hurricane Katrina taught many hard lessons about emergency preparedness.  One of the biggest lessons we learned from the devastation, was how the communication systems – personal, local, state and federal, came to a standstill.  Land phones and cell phones were not working.  The same thing happened for a period of time on September 11, 2001 when so many were calling loved ones the voice networks could not handle the overload.  With an overload, emergency service personnel may be unable to make or receive emergency calls, or to communicate with one another.

A way around this is to text.  During the aftermath of Katrina, emergency workers realized that text messaging was quick and reliable when nothing else worked.

Text messages use far less bandwidth than a normal voice call and are more likely to be successfully sent in emergency circumstances.  This means quicker assistance from emergency personnel and reassuring contact with friends and family members. And, by texting during an emergency, voice lines are freed up for emergency official’s use.

Since texting is a technology that has been new during the last decade, for those over 50 years of age, it is a technology not quickly used.  This is a great reason to go out and get a texting lesson from someone you know.  Your children would love to show you.  If you are a proficient texter, teach someone who may need a lesson, and you just might save a life during the next emergency.