The 2023 Farmers’ Almanac is warning readers that this winter will be filled with plenty of “shaking, shivering, and shoveling.” In particular, it suggests a stormy winter for the eastern half of the country, saying that for some areas this may mean snow, while for others it will produce more slush and mush.
Regardless of its form, winter precipitation is no laughing matter for seniors. While the winter months are tricky to navigate for anyone, the elderly experience the most difficulty. Seniors are already very susceptible to slipping and falling; in fact, one third of people aged 65 and older falls each year, often due to their environment. The accumulation of snow and ice outdoors presents an even greater danger for them.
Even for those who exercise regularly, shoveling snow is rigorous, intense, and physical work that raises one’s blood pressure and heart rate. It’s very important that seniors not attempt to clear snow outside their home on their own. Not only does shoveling strain the back and heart, but the elderly should also be very careful when exposing themselves to the cold because the response of their bodies to cold can be diminished by underlying medical conditions or certain medications. This puts them at an increased risk for hypothermia.
Since it’s likely that the 2023 winter will produce at least a few snowstorms, it’s a wise idea to prepare in advance for how your elderly family members or loved ones will get their driveways and walkways cleared. It is legally a homeowner’s responsibility to clear snow from sidewalks on his or her property. It is also important to get snow removed quickly to avoid a significant delay in necessary treatment in the event that an emergency vehicle needs to access a house, or a senior needs to leave home for an appointment.
If you or another family member lives nearby, the easiest scenario is obviously to go over and shovel or blow off the snow yourself. In many cases, though, adult children live far away from ailing or aging parents. Though the miles can be challenging, that doesn’t mean you can’t still be there for them by arranging for snow removal over the distance. Here are a few ways to find a qualified company or individual to shovel snow for your parents or loved ones:
- Call the Better Business Bureau or visit its website for reviews of qualified professional snow removal services. You can contract with a plowing company in advance to clear your parents’ outdoor areas after each storm all winter long. Be sure to let the company know if there are time-sensitive issues, such as regularly scheduled visits from a caregiver or the need to get out for doctor’s appointments early in the morning. It’s also a good idea to get in touch with the company the night before a predicted snowstorm to be sure you’re still on the list. (Here’s a word to the wise: don’t wait until right before a blizzard to ask to be added to someone plowing list. This is a sure recipe for disaster, since most snow removal companies are overbooked by the middle of winter.)
- Ask neighbors to recommend a neighborhood teen who would be willing to shovel snow for a fee. You might even find a kind neighbor with a snowblower who is willing to come over to blow out their driveway and walkway once his or her own home is done.
- Call the local city or town administration office to find out if there are any special programs for housebound or disabled seniors. Sometimes these programs are volunteer; other times they charge a fee. Generally the way these programs are set up is that a call goes out to area businesses, sports teams, and residents to find out who wants to be part of a compiled list of those willing to assist local seniors in need. Then any senior who has called to ask for help is connected with organizations or individuals who responded, often based on conveniently located addresses.
- Call around to local churches to see if they have any volunteers who can help with snow removal for shut-ins. Local sports teams also sometimes volunteer to help as part of their community service.
Another often-overlooked idea is to invest in heated snow-melting mats. These slip-proof mats can be left out all winter long and can be turned on or off from inside using a remote controller. The mats eliminate ice as well, so you won’t have to worry about ice accumulating from residual snow left behind after shoveling. Either you or a neighbor can set these up for your parents or loved one before winter so they can leave their home without slipping or falling.
While New England winters these days might not be what they were when we were children, they can still pack a powerful punch. Rest assured that making snow removal preparations in advance will give both you and your loved ones peace of mind this winter.