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No Snow Days in Eldercare!

Are you prepared to care for your elderly loved ones when the weather gets bad?

I have never known a job where I would wake up on a snowy morning and roll over because work was cancelled or the office was closed. Usually, if snow is forecast, senior living professionals will plan accordingly, and most of us keep a spare set of clothing and a toothbrush in the trunk of our car, just in case. Some of us have even been known to keep an air mattress handy in our office closet also.

I remember a few years back, driving to work on deserted streets through an ice storm to get to work. Trees were literally falling all around me because the temperature dropped so fast and all the trees and roads were already drenched with a heavy, wet snow. I finally got through a road that wasn’t closed and made it to work, but it was definitely harrowing.

I also drove through a snow storm on a Sunday night and spent the night in a vacant apartment because, as a director, I had to ensure that the building was staffed properly, and the snow was meant to be even worse in the morning. It was a fun night though. We threw a pajama party for the residents and my entire leadership team stayed over. We broke into the kitchen to make snacks at 9:00pm, much to the chagrin of the chef who had decided not to stay.

It’s something that most people with regular desk jobs don’t think about but eldercare is a 24–7 job. Whether it’s home care, nursing home, assisted living or even independent living, the meals must be served, the medications must be administered, the care must be given. When you’re dealing in a residential situation where people depend on you for some or all of their activities of daily living, you can’t let them down.

In Philadelphia, we really haven’t had any measurable snow over the past few years. I feel like I’ve almost forgotten how crazy people get when it snows.

Today, we have a few inches and the roads aren’t terrible, but school is closed and so was my husband’s dentist, which he found out about after he drove over for a scheduled appointment.

For the winter enthusiast, a snowy day is a delight, for the rest of us, it is stressful and/or a lost work day. For anyone who works in eldercare, the primary concern is getting to work for the residents, patients or clients. This is the benefit of senior living. If a senior is at home alone, there are so many things that could happen to throw a monkey wrench in their plans.

Icy outside conditions:

Just think of what goes into clearing your own driveway, sidewalk or stoop. Snow can be heavy and once it’s cleared, the surface can still be slippery. Imagine being unsteady on your feet, weak, and in need of holding on to things to get around. Even the most independent senior might struggle to clear snow. They may feel the need to do this task because it’s something they’ve always done, or they need to get their dog out and don’t want to wait for a service. Either way, outside falls on ice can be very dangerous for anyone and can result in broken bones and other injuries. It can also be challenging on the heart to shovel snow and every year, there are stories about seniors dying of heart attacks while shoveling snow.

Power outage:

Many times with winter storms, high winds and icy branches and wires can cause power outages. This can cut heating and lights which can really impede on anyone’s lifestyle. The elderly are more at risk for inside falls due to poor lighting. They can also be at a higher risk of hypothermia when temperatures plumet due to less muscle mass and thinner skin than a younger person.

Frozen pipes:

This is a risk for anyone who lives in an area that gets the deep freeze each year. Frozen pipes can be expensive and dangerous. Sometimes our elderly loved ones and neighbors don’t always prepare their homes as well as they might have done in earlier years. If they are living alone, they may forget or not winterize properly.

Food shortages:

One of the things younger people take for granted is the ability to stock the refrigerator. Going grocery shopping can be cumbersome as we age. It requires transportation to and from, the ability to navigate the aisles, the ability to pack, lift and unpack bags. I find that when I visit seniors in their homes, their refrigerators tend to be empty. This may be due to lack of motivation or just the inability to navigate technology to have food delivered, but during a snow storm, seniors may already have an empty refrigerator with limited ability to get out to restock.

Inability for help to get there:

For seniors living in their homes, if something happens (such as a fall) on a good day, their trusted caregivers or families will be able to get to them to help them with activities of daily living. If the weather is bad, caregivers and families may have a harder time getting through the weather.

This is why senior living does have its upsides and if you’re trying to convince a senior loved one to move to a senior living situation, a good snow storm is always a motivator. Try asking the what if questions. Test their ability to care for their home and themselves during a winter storm. Can they shovel the stoop? Can they get the dog out? Can they manage if the power goes out? Do they have food in the fridge? Do they want to do all these things or would they rather have someone else clear their car off, shovel the sidewalk, make dinner and provide back-up power if the lights and heating go off.

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