If you, like me, have a tendency to worry about how your elderly parents are doing, and about their safety, winter is probably when you worry the most.
100+ senior safety tips for winter
- what to prepare ahead of winter
- keeping warm inside
- going outside in the cold
- winter diet changes
- making your outdoors areas safe
- everyday safety for the elderly
Contents Overview & Quicklinks
Getting prepared before winter hits
In the fall, it’s best if you, or your parents, run a few checks and get stocked up on certain supplies, particularly if they typically have severe winter weather.
Here are just some of those things which need to be looked at –
If your loved ones have a car, they will need to prepare the following –
- has the car been serviced and is it fully roadworthy ?
- is the tire pressure correct ?
- have the windshield wipers been checked and cleaned ?
- has the washer fluid been topped up and is there deicer in there ?
- the heater/defroster ?
- is the radiator working properly ?
- check the belts
- what about the lights and indicators ?
- is the car battery in good condition, or is it time to get a new one for the winter ahead ?
- does your parent use chains or winter tires ?
- if your parent goes on a winter trip, keep the tank topped up
- this may seem a little harsh, but is your parent roadworthy ? It’s important for your parent to be honest about their driving skills, as they may hurt themselves and other people, if they cause an accident
- does your parent have glasses to cut down glare in snowy winter conditions ?
- do your parents have problems with night vision and driving ?
- lastly, does your parent have a breakdown kit ?
A breakdown kit
What goes into a winter car breakdown kit ?
A breakdown kit should have the usual items for warning other traffic you have broken down, but in the winter you will need a few other items, as you can also get caught in a snowstorm, and need to stay warm etc.
- ice scraper and brush
- jumper cables
- cell phone charger
- first aid kit
- tire chains
- non-perishable snacks
This list comes from the Washington State Department of Transport, and can read more here.
Your loved one’s heating system
Just like with the car, you want to make sure before winter hits that your parents have had their heating system serviced, or at least given a clean bill of health.
You really don’t want your system breaking down in the middle of a winter storm !
- does your parent have a boiler that requires checking ?
- is their electric heating working ?
- is the electric wiring in the system up to date ?
- if your parent uses chimneys and fire places, have they been cleaned, so they don’t catch fire when the season starts ?
- does your parent have the appropriate smoke alarms, fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms ?
- does your parent have a working fire extinguisher, or at least a fire blanket ?
Windows and doors
- are all the windows properly sealed to exclude drafts of cold air ?
- if your parent has single glazed windows, have they had “shrink” plastic put up to double glaze them ?
- have you got draft excluders for all the doors ?
- have you checked that all the windows and doors are opening easily and don’t need oiling ?
Make sure that all the bulbs in the outdoor areas and the garage are working.
Power outage kit and supplies
For the last of pre-winter preparations, it’s a good idea to make sure that your loved ones have everything they need for when there are winter power outages, especially if they live in an area prone to these –
Here is a power outage kit recommended by Appalachian Power.
- flashlights and fresh batteries
- battery-powered radios or televisions
- candles, matches, or lighters (you will need to decide if your parents are safe to use these without causing a fire – it’s your call)
- rechargeable LED camping lantern – we have the Blazin Fireball, and it really is incredibly bright and can be charged off a computer
- water for drinking and cooking
- portable heater (oil or gas) – again this item depends on how safe you think it is for your elderly parents to operate it, and again that’s your call
- camping equipment (sleeping bags, camp stoves, lanterns)
- non-perishable food and a manual can opener
- manufacturers’ instructions for power-operated equipment such as the garage door, generator
- important medicines you need to take – better to locate them while the power is still on than fumbling around in the dark should the power go out.
You can see it at source here.
Supplies for the winter
Don’t forget to stock up on supplies for around the home that you may need for when it snows in the winter and for ice –
- is there lots of grit and salt for any paths, the driveway and any porches to stop your loved ones from slipping ? – a quick tip with grit, is to make sure it is angular and not round grit, it sounds stupid, but I was sold a round form of grit with salt, and it rolled, making my driveway a nightmare until I washed it into the drain (it was more slippery than the ice)
- if the outdoor areas have any badly paved sections on which you can catch your feet, maybe get those done before winter ?
- are there any gutters which are leaking water down to the ground which could freeze over ?
- it’s a good idea to get the gutters cleaned out before winter
- if your parents are starting to get a little fragile, is it time to get railings put up along the walking areas around the house, so they have something to hold onto as they walk in snow and ice ?
- has someone been contacted to come and do snow shoveling and gritting around the home in the winter if you, or your elderly parents, are unable to do that ?
Smart home systems
If your parent is a little tech-savvy, or you can take care of it, have you thought about a smart home system which can be controlled from a smartphone ?
This is a bit of a luxury item I know, but you can get lots of systems for a few hundred, and then a relatively low monthly plan to run the system – usually around $20 – $40’s, or £’s in the UK, a month, and if your parents are fragile, you won’t have to worry so much if you aren’t there all the time.
You can control –
- heating from anywhere
- turn lights on at any time from anywhere
- detect intruders
- and if you wish to monitor your parents activities without disturbing them, just to make sure they are doing things as usual, you can add sensors on doors, cupboards, the kettle, the fridge etc., and you will receive notifications if and when the sensors are triggered
If you and your parents are interested in monitoring systems which allow you to discreetly check how your parents are doing at a distance, and which can also alert you to any problems, I have an article which outlines more than 40 systems which will help you to do just that. You can read that article here.
Going outside in the cold in winter
- do your parents have the right shoes ?
- should your parent be going out when it’s really cold ?
- is your parent wearing lots of layers when they go out ?
- has your parent got any thermal waterproof trousers ? – very cheap on ebay, and they are absolutely fantastic at keeping you warm. I got a pair for 15$ on ebay from China – 6 weeks shipping for 18$
- does your parent have good quality winter clothing for going outdoors – coat, hat, scarf and gloves ?
- keep mouths covered with some type of scarf to warm the air before it goes into the lungs
- do you need a GPS tracker watch with fall alert, and a call facility for your parents in winter if they want to go out ?
- does your loved one need a mobility device in the snow to help with their balance ?
- if your parent uses crutches do they have winter tips on them ?
What do you need to do for outside areas of the house ?
Winter safety outside the house is really a question of getting rid of snow and ice –
- keep snow and ice cleared from paths, porches, entrances and the garage
- salt and grit all the areas where you can slip
wear the right shoes with grip
- put down mats and shoe scrapers, so you don’t drag snow into the house
- make sure all the lighting is nice and bright on the outside areas
- make sure your parent has a walker or Rollator for outings if they are having mobility issues
What can my parents do to stay warm indoors ?
- don’t sit in drafts
- are your parents wearing thermal undergarments ?
- has your parent tried wearing silk undergarments, which are really warm ?
- the recommended temp for seniors indoors is 71 F
- do your parent’s have a hot water bottle which they can sit with – they stay warm for hours ?
- heating blankets are also very efficient, but use electricity, so they cost more than a hot water bottle
- does your parent have adequate sweaters ?
- does your parent have light gloves for indoors ?
- does your parent use a hot water bottle in bed or a heating blanket ?
- does your parent have a thin cap to keep the head warm – 80% of heat loss is from the head ?
- do exercises to increase circulation – either sitting in the chair just moving ankles in circular motions and arms as well
- if your parents are mobile, have them get up and move around regularly and shake their arms to get the blood flowing
- you can also get a little wheel with pedals which you can use sitting in a chair, both for your legs, and for your arms if you put it on a table in front of you
- drink plenty of hot drinks
- eat warm meals
- get a microwave to easily heat food up when your loved one is cold
- if your parent has a favorite seat, set up a kettle, or thermos, there for them with all they need to have multiple hot drinks – but keep the electric cable where it can’t cause tripping
Should an elderly person have any particular changes to their diet in the winter ?
- have food with fish oils – omega 3 – tuna fish, sardines and other oily fish for stiff joints
- foods with vitamin D – tuna, mackerel, salmon,
- foods fortified with vitamin D – milk, cheeses, egg yolks, cereals
- take vitamin D3 to help the immune system fight against respiratory viruses – helps reduce incidents of flu and also pneumonia of certain types
You can find more information here on WebMd
What can seniors do about loneliness and depression in the winter months ?
- lots of bright lights
- if your loved one suffers from SAD (Seasonal affective Disorder) do they have the lights for the disorder ?
- if your parent is isolated in winter and doesn’t go out, are people calling and visiting them ?
- get Skype, Zoom or FaceTime, so you can video call with your loved ones to help with loneliness
- make sure that your parents can get out and see their friends – if they need help, see if you or other friends and family can take them out to appointments
Winter Senior Safety Checklist
You can download and print out your own copy of the Senior Safety Tips for Winter Checklist below for free – no strings attached !
Weekly safety checks for elderly parents in their homes ?
In addition to all these seasonal safety checks, you have to keep up all your regular checks to keep the risk of falls and other accidents to a minimum.
And you can do this, and it will reduce the chances of accidents.
Here’s a list of all the basic checks you need to be doing –
- bright lighting in all areas of the home, so your parents can see where they are going
- lighting should be particularly good between the bedroom and the bathroom as our loved ones with age get up in the night to use the bathroom more and more frequency
- try to get lights which will automatically go on when your parents get out of bed at night – it reduces the chances of accidents from sleepy elderly parents tripping, or over reaching for light switches
- grab bars, or rails, between bedroom to bathroom, so your parents have something to help with their balance
- an alarm or medical alert button, or mobile phone in the bathroom, in case your parent slips and needs help
- if you make the floor clear, there is much less chance of falls occurring – so clear all clutter from stairs and hallways
- remove unnecessary rugs and mats which have can cause tripping from curled up edges
- in each room put grabbers close to where your parent sits, or works, so they don’t have to overstretch to get things off the floor or down from higher up
- where you have curtains, remove furniture and objects from in front, so your parents can get to them without having to reach out too far
- same for the windows and keep them clear of objects and furniture
- just like the doors make sure that all windows open easily avoiding any forcing and losing balance
- don’t have lots of cable lying around on the floor and sticking out, especially where your parents are walking
- make sure that there is a clear path without obstacles through each room
- a doorbell with intercoms placed where your parent sits in each room is a very good idea
- if you have stairs make sure they are in perfect condition, and no tears if there is carpet, and that all edges are tacked down
- if there are stairs, you should have a handrail and a gate at the top for nighttime
- floors should be non-slip and have carpet wherever possible to avoids slips, and to cushion a fall
- check any basement stairs which your parent use to make sure they are in good condition and that there is a handrail
- check that the switches and sockets throughout the house are at the right height for your loved one, to avoid accidents from over reaching ?
- check the conditions of the sockets and switches
Remember to also check porches, entrances and hallways
It is of course not just inside the house that you will need to check for your loved ones’ safety, but also any porches, walkways and entrances that they, or their friends, may use –
- do steps have handrails outside the house ?
- is the front door peephole at the right height for your parent?
- are there any potential tripping hazards as for your parent coming in through the front door ?
- do your porches have railings to prevent falls ?
- is the surface in good shape of any porch ?
- if there is a porch, does it have a nonslip surface on it ?
- is there good bright exterior lighting around exterior doors, and does it come on automatically as your parent approaches ?
- if you have to step up into the house entrance, is there a rail or grab bar to hold on to as you do so ?
- is the front door area wide enough mobility aids ? – especially for when your loved one must turn and lock the door
- are the front door handles at the right height, and are they lever handles ?
- if your parent wants to have rugs in the entrance tack them down so no-one trips
- keep the hallway clear
- is there an automatic light that comes on as you come inside the house ?
- make sure the lighting is bright enough, as a lot of elderly adults have visual impairments
The bathroom safety checks for the elderly
The bathroom is the most dangerous room for falls in the house statistically, so your parents really have to be careful there –
- is there nonslip flooring
- is there good lighting ?
- have you installed remote sensor lighting, so there’s no fumbling around for switches ?
- are switches that are they easy to reach ?
- are nonslip mats for the bath and shower, or nonslip tape ?
- are grab bars for the tub and shower ?
- if your loved one has mobility issues, do they have some form of a raised toilet seat ?
- do your parents need shower chairs or bath chairs ?
- do you have proper support for your parent getting in and out of the tub ?
I have an in-depth article about bathroom safety that you may wish to read, with over 50 tips for improving bathroom safety which I have used with my parents, and which can help you too.
If you want to know where you can get help to pay for some bathroom safety equipment, I have an article which tells about Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, State funding, grants, Veterans Benefits, Assistive Technology Projects and the USDA Rural development Section 504 Home Repair program.
You read the article here.
Kitchen safety checks for the elderly
I have already mentioned the fire alarms etc, but if you don’t have them in the kitchen, that should be done.
You also want to look at these few points –
- does the stove have an automatic shut off if your loved one walks away and forgets it?
- are the counter tops, sockets and plugs still at a good height for your parents ?
- is the floor nonslip ?
- is there somewhere to place hot pans and casseroles ?
- is there an anti-scald device for the water at the sink, or at the boiler ?
- are any instructions needed next to devices to remind your loved ones how to use them ?
Lastly, when your parents get a lot older, or start to get forgetful, regularly checking the refrigerator to see if-
- has food gone off ?
- is the fridge cleaned regularly ?
- is food out of date ?
You can get a very good idea of how well an elderly person is looking after themselves, and if they really are in need of help, from the state of their refrigerator, and what they have in it.
Check frequently used items
This applies particularly to electrical items which get a lot of usage –
- what state is the kitchen equipment in ?
- are plugs and cables looking in good condition ?
- does your parent have a lightweight vacuum cleaner ?
- are the cleaning supplies at a good height ?
- are brooms and dust pans in a clutter-free space ?
- are any extension cables in good condition ?
Final safety tips for the elderly, in and around the home
If you don’t know if your parents really are coming to that time when they need help, just go round the house and check a few of these things –
- general state of the house – does it need obvious repairs
- look in the bathroom and see if it’s clean etc
- do the fridge check, if nothing else
- take a walk around the house outside and check for repairs that stand out
- check if there are a lot of unattended to bills and unopened mail
- is your parent vacuuming ? And are their clothes are clean or not ?
- how is your parent’s hygiene ?
This will help you figure out how hard you have to go with all the safety checks.
I hope this helps. I have an article on fall-proofing the home and other safety tips if your parent, or parents, have balance and mobility issues. There are over 250 tips in the article on things you can do. You find that article here.
Good luck !
I’m Gareth, the author and owner of Looking After Mom and Dad.com
I have been a caregiver for over 10 yrs and share all my tips here.