Tips for Seniors on How to Stay Safe & Warm in the Winter

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Senior Living

I hate to have to admit it, but I have hit that point in my life when winter seems to settle down in my bones somewhere in the middle of October and stays until early April – if I’m lucky! In addition to feeling chilled every morning when climbing out of bed during the winter months, there is also the heightened risk those of us with a little bit of snow on the roof run of getting sick. We have found out that we tend to lose body heat much more quickly than we did twenty years ago. Admittedly we may not be as active as we once were. If we do not pay attention to how our bodies are handling the cold, getting a chill can lead to some serious consequences like pneumonia or even hypothermia.

“Hypo” What?

Hypothermia occurs when you get so chilled that your body temperature drops to dangerous levels. A body temperature of 95 degrees or lower may cause serious health concerns like heart attacks, internal organ damage, or worse. Some of the warning signs and symptoms that you may be facing the onset of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Getting chilled can happen when you are outside in the cold or even sitting in a cold house and not covering up to preserve your body heat. Try to limit your exposure to the frigid weather and pay attention to how cold your surroundings are. Most importantly, keep your core temperature warm.

Getting to the “Core” of Keeping Warm

Keeping warm inside is easily accomplished by staying in a warm apartment. Pay attention to the temperature inside your apartment and make sure you dress warmly enough when the mercury in the outside thermometer plummets. Sweaters, vests, and comforters are your friends in fighting off the cold. If you keep your thermostat in the mid-sixties, your apartment still may not be warm enough to keep you warm. However, setting the thermostat at 70 and warming the full apartment may not be an economical solution if you are paying for heat. There are many small quartz room heaters now available on the market. Do your research and find one which you can have placed in the room you are using most often to relax. Remember, a body at rest does not generate heat. 

Here are some additional tips for keeping warm:

  • To save on heating bills, set individual thermostats to lower settings and close off the rooms you are not using. Keep the basement door closed. Air leaks and drafts are a major waste of energy in apartments causing your electric bill to soar during the winter months. The biggest source of heat loss in an apartment is often through windows. Keep your blinds and curtains closed, and if possible, invest in heavy drapes. If there are gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or shrinking window plastic to keep the cold air out. Closed curtains create air gaps in front of windows, reducing heat loss from inside the building. Place a rolled towel in front of all exterior doors to stop drafts.
  • Many apartments have ceiling fans that can be reversed to redirect airflow in the winter and summer. Setting your ceiling fan to pull the cold air upwards will force the warm air which has collected near the ceiling to circulate throughout the apartment. This will improve the efficiency of your heat registers and improve the feeling of warmth in your unit. Leaving the warm air trapped near the ceiling prevents you from feeling the full heating effect of your apartment's furnace or registers.
  • Another overlooked source of heat loss is your air conditioner. Window mounted AC units should be removed in the fall and reinstalled late spring. If your AC unit is wall-mounted, cover them. Check with your maintenance team or Property Manager to see if there are exterior and interior covers available for your apartment. While you are at it, check to ensure there is no gap in your wall-mounted AC box, causing heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. An unused air conditioner left exposed allows plenty of cold air to flow through the AC unit and into your apartment.
  • Dress for the weather - even if you are staying in the house. Blankets and comforters, socks and slippers, and long underwear under your PJs at night will make your indoor time more bearable. If you are forced to go out into that winter wonderland, wear warm clothes, and don't stay out in the cold and wind longer than you must.
  • Food is fuel when Jack Frost comes calling. Eat well to keep up your weight and calorie count. Yes, body fat really does help you stay warmer. If you drink, drink in moderation since alcohol can make you lose body heat. Remember, some medicines can affect body heat. These include prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ask family or friends to check on you during cold weather and after heavy snow events. If a blizzard causes a power outage that leaves you without heat, make plans to stay with friends or family.

Is There Assistance Available for My Heating Bills?

If you are having a hard time paying your heating bills, the WE Energies Winter Protection Plan

(WPP) protects seniors and low-income customers from service disconnection and high energy bill payments during the winter months (Nov. 1 to March 31). You qualify for the plan if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • Are age 65 or older
  • Receive Department of Health and Human Services cash or food assistance, or Medicaid
  • Have a household income at or below 150 percent of federal poverty level guidelines
  • Eligible seniors participating in WPP are not required to make specific payments during the heating season.

At the end of the protection period, both low-income and seniors must pay off any money owed in installments between April and November. For more information or to apply, call: (800)-242-9137.