Preparing seniors for winter in the Pacific Northwest
If you're like me and most others who live near a rainy coast, you hang onto summer fearing for when the days grow shorter and the skies turn gray. Though there are some advantages to colder months, such as more time for reading and the excuse to cook heartier food.
With one of the strangest and tumultuous summers in recent history almost behind us, it’s time to get life and home ready for winter. Health experts predict the pandemic will stretch through 2021, which adds another factor to planning.
Here are some tips to consider while savoring the last few rays of the season.
Start stocking your pantry
A healthy immune system is key to keeping winter colds away, and especially important during a global health crisis.
Speak with a caregiver or family member about food shopping and planning to ensure you or your loved one is getting the nutrients they need when they need it. Luckily, there are numerous grocery shopping services out there that can take the stress away from heading out to the store in the pouring rain. Forbes recently published a list of best delivery services by region and preference.
In the next month or so, stock the pantry with essentials, such as pasta, beans and other dried goods. The New York Times has a good guide on how to stock pantry staples for all types of cooks.
If you or the senior you care for feel comfortable shopping yourself, check out SeaCare’s guide on how to to do it safely.
Get the closet ready for cold weather
Now is the time to locate all those sweaters and scarves you packed away to keep winter out of sight and out of mind (at least that’s what I did!). Older adults are more susceptible to hypothermia from even mild temperature drops, and as we all know in the pacific northwest, fall weather comes fast.
Another cold weather hazard is falling, which is the most common injury among the elderly. The right shoes make all the difference in safely moving about your day. Some sturdy rain boots can keep your feet dry and on the ground, and are easy to slip on.
Keeping a box or drawer of gloves, hats and scarves by the front door is a good way to one, be organized, and two, leave prepared every time you step out your front door.
And of course, we can’t forget about the most essential pacific northwest accessory- the raincoat. Check that there’s no tears and holes before you'll be needing it. You can also spray it down with a waterproof finish to make sure no drops leak to the inside, and hang it by the front door so that it goes with you on every excursion.
Make a point to be active, regardless of the weather
Even without open senior centers or ways to socialize in groups, there are many ways to keep the blood flowing in colder months.
Swimming is a great low-impact activity that can also be social. After a change in state policy, Washington’s public pools, indoor and out, are now open at less than 25 percent capacity. Group classes of less than 5 people can also resume within social distancing requirements.
Doing yoga regularly is another way to stay active indoors. There are countless websites, apps and YouTube channels that offer free or low-cost classes. The practice keeps you limber and can improve your balance to avoid falls.
When the rain is more of a drizzle than a pour is a good time to wander outside. Having trails within walking distance to several neighborhoods is one of the many perks to living in Puget Sound region. We all know the health benefits of walking, but more science is emerging that this type of exercise can even affect your personality in positive ways.
Weather-proof your home
Perhaps the most important task of preparing for winter is making sure you have a working heat source.
Step one is to make sure the heat kicks in once you turn up the thermostat. The next important task is to change the air filters on your heaters. Sears has an in-depth checklist on everything to do with your furnace.
An HVAC inspector can also do this annually so you don’t have to worry about taking all the steps. They’ll also make sure the furnace is properly vented to prevent carbon monoxide leakage.
For outside matters, have a family member come over to help and clean your gutters once most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. That way, you don’t have water flowing down the sides of your house, which can cause all sorts of problems that could even lead to a flooded basement.
Check for any drafts coming through windows and doors. You can hire a professional to do an energy audit and to weather-proof your home, or do it yourself on the cheap.
Prepare for a winter storm
For all of us living near the coast, it’s a little easier to prepare seniors for colder months in the pacific northwest than in the northeast, for instance. We don’t have to deal with snow under our shoes and covering our cars for the majority of the year. What we do have to deal with is a general sogginess from constant rain, and the after-effect of it freezing on the roads.
Designating a chauffeur, if you will, for a day of errands once a week can take the stress away from getting necessary things done.
There have been freak storms in the past, which have shut down both Seattle and Bellevue. SeaCare has a guide on preparing for severe weather, which includes designating a friend, family or community member to check-in with you when there are severe weather warnings.
Most emergency plans recommend two weeks worth of medication and a few days-worth of food. The guide also has a list of resources for getting started on creating a thorough plan.
Plan to stay connected
With the monotony of gray days in the Seattle area, it’s important to get out of your headspace and socialize with others.
More and more people are choosing to age-in-place thanks to technology and in-home caregiving, which gives seniors more freedom but can also be more isolating. One solution to this is virtual retirement communities, which offer the social ties without the living situation.
The Village to Village Network allows you to search for these communities by state or city. North East Seattle Together (NEST) is one such community that unites neighbors and recruits volunteers to help with daily tasks and staying active.
Keeping in touch with people that know and love you is even more important during times you may feel blue. Many caregivers are equipped to help with virtual communication to stay connected with family and friends. SeaCare caregivers are also trained to help their clients get set up for telemedicine appointments.