The autumnal equinox is just days away. Seniors living in Cincinnati can expect cool, wet weather over the next few months. For seniors aging in place, fall also presents some special challenges — and adult children of those older parents who live alone need to be aware of them.
Today, let’s review four safety considerations should address before the weather turns much colder.
1. Be aware that tree debris is a hazard
Red, orange and yellow falling leaves are gorgeous to look at in October, but by November they’re just so much debris on sidewalks, driveways and in yards. And as rainier weather sets in, they become slippery obstacles that could cause an aging parent with limited mobility to slip, fall and potentially get hurt.
That’s nothing to take lightly. About 2.8 million older Americans are injured every year by falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And about 800,000 of those injured require hospitalization — usually for life-threatening injuries like head traumas or broken hips.Soggy leaves aren’t the only problem, either. Many trees release seeds and nuts in the fall. Squirrels and other rodents often collect them and spread them around the yard as they bury them in anticipation of winter. And windy, rainy weather can bring down twigs and other small tree debris that can just as easily trip an older loved one.
Moreover, decaying piles of leaves harbor mold, mildew and other allergens that irritate some seniors’ respiratory systems and make them more susceptible to illness.
If your parents are still doing their own yard work, make sure that they’re able to keep up with the influx of tree debris.
Better yet, help them out by sweeping up loose leaves, collecting tree debris and composting it. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, consider hiring neighborhood teens or a landscaping company to do it for you.
2. Clear out gutters and downspouts
Falling leaves also bring clogged gutters and downspouts. Leaves and twigs can collect and cause water backups. Those backups can, in turn, cause roof leaks, interior wall damage or even foundation cracks — as the water spills out of the gutter in a strong rainfall, it can cascade down the wall and damage the foundation below.
Of course it’s not advisable for a senior to climb a ladder and clean out the gutters and downspouts him or herself. And we don’t recommend hiring neighbors to do it (if something goes wrong, your mom or dad would incur liability).
Hire a bonded, well-reviewed repair or roofing service to come service the gutters — once at the beginning of the fall and once after Thanksgiving, when most of the leaves have already come down for the year.
3. Have chimneys swept and central heating systems serviced
It’s not a bad idea to do a test run of your parent’s home heating system before the real cold weather sets in. Try turning on the furnace for 10 or 20 minutes and letting the dust burn out. Change the air filter and make sure the unit is in good working order. Or, call a home heating service to come out and give it a once over.
We don’t recommend any senior aging in place rely on wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces for heat in the winter, but realistically, we know that some of your parents are doing so — especially those who live in rural areas.
Make sure that your parent’s chimney and/or stovepipe is properly cleaned by a professional sweep before he or she needs to use it. Creosote build-up, bird nests and other obstructing debris are critical fire hazards.
Make sure, too, that parents who rely on wood-burning heat has plenty of starter, kindling and logs to get through the winter, and that they’re both physically strong enough and mentally alert enough to safely use the fireplace or stove this fall and winter. If not, it may be time to strongly consider alternate living arrangements with a younger family member or assisted living placement.
4. Make sure your parent has appropriate clothing for the fall and winter
Does your parent need a new coat? Winter boots, gloves, or a new, warm hat? Does he or she have layered outfits to get through the transition from warm to cool weather?
If not, you might schedule a day to take your mom or dad out shopping. It’s a good opportunity to spend time together and it can give you some peace to know that your mom or dad is well-prepared for the winter. Besides, getting new, stylish clothes can always brighten a person’s outlook!
Autumn in Cincinnati is a gorgeous, colorful season.
Just make sure that your senior parent is equipped for the winter, that his or her home and yard are in good condition and that you’re always looking ahead to needs that could crop up this coming winter.
It might not be a bad idea to start thinking about putting a snow removal service on retainer to clear your parent’s driveway when winter storms hit.
Or, if your parent is starting to need more help than can be feasibly provided in an aging-in-place situation, you might broach the subject of a move to a retirement community, where his or her daily living needs would be met and there would be no falling leaves or snow for your parent to manage.