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Caregiving Chronicles

News and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and beyond.

Caregiving Chronicles

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Caregiving Chronicles will present news and analysis on caregiving topics in MetroWest and around the world, in-depth Q&As with experts in fields related to caregiving and updates and announcements about caregiving resources available in MetroWest from CaregivingMetroWest.org Program Director Douglas Flynn.


Winter weather safety tips and advice for caregivers and older adults
By Douglas Flynn / December 28, 2017
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has had to venture out of doors recently, but the region is in the midst of a historic cold snap. 

Thursday’s bitter cold was expected to break records in Boston and its surrounding communities, with Boston.com noting that the city’s record low for a high temperature on December 28 is 18 degrees. That’s downright balmy compared to Thursday morning’s single digits that were barely creeping into the teens by early afternoon.

And there’s not much relief in sight as we’re not expected to see temps in even the 20s until after the New Year.

Needless to say, it’s time to start thinking about taking some safety precautions to combat the cold, especially if you are caring for an older adult.

Here are some of the most important things to consider as the mercury dips further out of sight:

•    Home preparations. Winter weather often requires some extra work around the house to make sure things are as safe as possible for both you and your loved one. Make sure there is plenty of salt or sand on hand for walkways and steps to help prevent falls when things get icy. It’s also a good idea to check that everything is OK with your furnace, hot-water heater, etc., as well as putting fresh batteries in any smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Take special care if any space heaters, fireplaces or wood stoves are used for additional heat. Make sure that such heat sources are at least three feet away from anything that can catch fire. Also be aware of any potential for frozen pipes. Keeping a trickle of warm water running from a faucet can keep the water moving and prevent it from freezing. Knowing how to shut off the water if a pipe bursts is important as well.

•    Cozy confines. When the weather gets especially frigid, be sure to limit any outside activities, especially for older adults. When you or your loved one do have to venture outside, dress appropriately with several layers, including an outer layer that is wind and water resistant. And be sure to protect your extremities with a hat, gloves or mittens and boots. 

•    Winter doldrums. The responsibilities of caring for a loved one are already stressful enough. Add in the pressure of the holidays, being cooped up inside and the effects of the dreary weather and lack of sunshine, and issues can become magnified quickly.

Seasonal depression is not uncommon, but help is available. If you or your loved one is feeling the effects of depression, consider seeking help in a support group or consult a professional. Help is available in MetroWest through the Elder Community Care program, and Caregiving MetroWest also provides a listing of other mental health resources.

•    Fuel assistance. Another important thing to check is that your loved one has enough fuel to keep warm for the winter. If fuel assistance is needed, there are a number of options. Utility companies offer arrearage management programs, low-income discounts and payment plan options. Contact your utility company for more information and if you have an issue with your utility company that can’t be resolved, contact the Department of Public Utilities at 1-877-886-5066.

Massachusetts also has a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that can help with gas, oil and electricity. The program is administered through local agencies, including the South Middlesex Opportunity Council in MetroWest. SMOC can be reached at 1-800-286-6776, or call the Cold Relief Information line at 1-800-632-8175 for information for where to apply if you are outside of SMOC’s coverage area.

The Good Neighbor Energy Fund can provide help for people who do not qualify for state or federal programs. Contact your local Salvation Army or call 1-800-334-3047 for more information. Citizens Energy’s Joe for Oil program provides one-time delivery of 100 gallons of home heating oil for a limited number of qualified applicants. Call 1-877-JOE-4OIL (1-877-563-4645) for more information. Most towns also have fuel assistance programs. Contact your local town offices or Council on Aging to find out about programs in your community.

•    Protect yourself. If you and your loved ones haven’t yet, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Older adults should also consider vaccinations for pneumonia and shingles. 

For more information and tips for dealing with winter weather, check out one of our past Q&As on the subject with Natick VNA CEO Judith Boyko or this recent article on Boston.com.



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