The last of the Thanksgiving leftovers are long gone. Holiday lights and decorations are going up. And the first snow has already come down upon the area.
Winter won’t officially begin for another couple weeks, but don’t tell that to anyone who had to scrape the ice off their windshield this morning. Yes, the cold weather is here, and the dawn of another winter brings a number of issues for caregivers and their loved ones.
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 walks 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 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.
• Deadlines approaching. The start of winter marks the end of the chance to enroll in new plans or change coverage plans for both Medicare and health insurance policies through the Affordable Care Act. The open enrollment period for Medicare is just about over, as it ends on Dec. 7. For any last-minute changes, go to Medicare.gov.
There is more time remaining to get coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which has open enrollment until Feb. 15. Signups must be completed by Dec. 15, however, to have coverage start on Jan. 1. For more information or to compare available plans, check out healthcare.gov or the state’s exchange, the Massachusetts Health Connector.
• 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.
• Emergency preparation. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is the state agency responsible for coordinating federal, state, local, voluntary and private resources during emergencies and disasters in Massachusetts. MEMA recommends having a well-stocked “Winter Home Emergency Kit” in your home that includes flashlights, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, bottled water, non-perishable food, a manual can opener and heavy blankets, as well as a “Winter Emergency Car Kit” in your automobile with blankets, extra clothing, flashlight, spare batteries, a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for drinking water), non-perishable food, windshield scraper, shovel, sand, rope and jumper cables. For more recommendations for dealing with extreme cold weather, see the MEMA website.