Winter can be a particularly difficult season for seniors, especially seniors who live alone.
But if you have an older neighbor, it’s not always clear whether that person could use a hand from time to time, nor is it always clear how you could offer to lend that hand.
Still, it’s reassuring for everyone when they know that their neighbors have their backs. In a season when loneliness, slip-and-fall accidents and immobility can have life-or-death consequences, being that neighbor for an elderly person nearby is an excellent way to pay it forward.
Why Winter is Especially Difficult for Seniors
Winter can be both practically challenging and demoralizing for older people.
On one level, there is the cold that winter brings, which on its own is unpleasant — but older people are more sensitive to cold weather, and many of them opt to stay indoors as much as possible, Misty Marsh at Simple Family Preparedness writes.
“Because of this, the ‘winter blues’ also tend to hit the elderly a bit harder,” she says. “Many elderly also worry about being stranded or stuck during the winter, but aren’t sure where to turn for help.”
Further, snow and ice can be dangerous for seniors because a slip-and-fall accident can turn into a long hospital stay. Rachel Quednau, writing at StrongTowns.org, reflects on what this might look like to someone who is sensitive to that danger. “Whenever I’m crossing a busy intersection or navigating a shoddy sidewalk, I immediately think about the elderly residents in my neighborhood, the wheelchair users, the parents with small children. … If I used a cane or a wheelchair, I wouldn’t have gone outside for days because those unplowed sidewalks would have made travel flat-out impossible.”
To complicate these challenges, most seniors have lived long, healthy lives in which they’ve seldom had to rely on others for assistance. “Many times, they may feel like they are bothering you if they ask for help, or they may sometimes be too proud to ask for help,” writes the team at HeatTrak, a Georgia-based company that manufactures snow-melting mats. “Even though they are the most in need, they may be the least likely to approach you for help — so make a plan to reach out to them, and don’t expect them to make the first move.”
4 Things You Can Do Today to Help Your Neighbor
Helping a senior next door calls for a combination of practical assistance and empathy. Here are four such actions you can take immediately that will help immensely this winter.
1. Volunteer to Shovel Snow and Salt Walkways
Even the most athletic among us get a little winded the first time we have to shovel our driveways for the year. What’s more, ice makes getting around more difficult for seniors. If you have a neighbor whose driveway needs shoveling, or whose walkway needs to be de-iced, offer to take care of those chores as you’re doing your own.
Such an act can have dramatic effects. Case in point: In Providence, Rhode Island, an organization called Serve Rhode Island has recruited volunteers to shovel sidewalks and driveways for hundreds of residents all around the city.
“Shoveling a driveway seems so simple, but to seniors, elderly and disabled folks it impacts their ability to get medical care, go to doctors’ appointments and get food delivered,” Serve Rhode Island’s director, Marisa Petreccia, tells international nonprofit Points of Light. “So from our vantage point we are making sure that their basic needs are still being met in times of disaster.”
2. Cook For Them
The simple act of sharing a meal has brought people together since the dawn of time. This is a wonderful gesture that neighbors appreciate, and also one that lets you pass along lessons about giving to the next generation, the team at volunteering platform SignUp.com writes.
“Prepare a healthy meal (with enough leftovers your neighbor can heat later), and either bring the kids along to deliver it or invite your neighbor over to dine with your family. Your neighbor will benefit from a healthy meal and the time socializing with others while your kids can learn important skills about interacting with and respecting their elders, sharing, and appropriate behavior around company.”
While you can certainly invite seniors to your table at any time of the year, companionship during the long, dark evenings of winter will be especially appreciated.
3. Let Them Know You’re Available to Give Them a Lift
Snow and ice present major challenges for seniors, especially those who rely on their own cars to get around.
“When the weather starts getting cold and snow starts flying, people start worrying about, ‘Am I going to be able to get out? Am I going to be able to get to the store?'” says Christine McAvoy, who serves as the executive director of a Vermont charity called Brattleboro Senior Meals, which helps bring nutritious meals to local seniors during the winter months.
This act of kindness could start with a simple invitation: “I’m going to the grocery store. Would you like to join?” This does numerous things:
- It helps seniors overcome the fear of not being able to get out when the weather is bad.
- It is an opportunity to connect person-to-person.
- It opens the door for further assistance, such as giving your neighbor a ride to a doctor’s appointment.
4. Put Together a Winter Storm Emergency Plan
The team at Care.com reminds readers that winter storms can cause power outages, which means it’s important for everyone to have stockpiles of flashlights, battery-powered radios, blankets and non-perishable foods.
Before the deepest winter weather hits, consider reaching out to your neighbor to see whether he or she has the necessary provisions for a winter storm. The Care.com article even links to a winter weather supplies checklist from the CDC that will be useful for your planning.
However you choose to reach out, know that a simple gesture can have a profound effect on an elderly neighbor’s well-being during the winter months.
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