Seniors can be especially susceptible to even slightly colder temperatures, even when they are indoors. A cool draft of air can be pleasant on a warm day in August, but that same cooling draft is uncomfortable inside a senior’s home during winter months.
As we age, we need to be warmer to stay comfortable. For many older folks it is more than just a matter of comfort. They need warmth to stay healthy.
To help reduce the potential for hypothermia the National Institutes of Health recommends that seniors set their home thermostats for at least 68 to 70 degrees in the winter. For seniors on fixed incomes the energy costs to keep a home this warm may be too expensive.
Here is a list of no-cost or low-cost ideas that can increase a senior's comfort in the home:
-When heating a house, you may be able to save energy by reducing the heat in unused portions of your home. Try creating a "warm room" in areas where you frequently spend time. Turn down thermostats in closed-off rooms. Remember during frigid weather to provide enough heat to prevent frozen water pipes.
-Try out different furniture arrangements to move the furniture you use most away from drafts. Your favorite chair will seem that much cozier when it is placed in the warmest spot in a room.
-When you turn in for the night, pre-heat your bed with a hot water bottle, electric blanket or electric mattress pad. Adding an extra blanket or a quilt will let you stay warm while your thermostat is turned down for the night.
-Reverse the rotation on your ceiling fan to push warm air down into the living area. Many ceiling fans have a reverse switch on them that will push down the warmer air from the ceiling to help you stay warm. Run it on the slowest speed so you don’t feel a draft.
-While many of us think to dress in layers when outside, folks can sometimes forget that the same idea can make a difference inside too. Wear several layers of thin clothing that will help insulate your body by trapping warmth in the air pockets between the layers.
-Remember wearing warm clothing to bed to maintain body temperature, while you sleep, is just as important as dressing for the outdoors. It is ok to wear socks to bed.
-Your head can also be a significant source of heat loss. Wear a warm comfortable hat to keep warmer.
-Use insulated drapes. Close them at night and on cloudy days to reduce heat loss through windows. Keep curtains open on the south side of the house during the day to let the warm sunshine in.
-Block any drafts blowing into your home through mail slots and under doors.
-Close the damper on your fireplace when not in use.
-If you have an attached garage, keep your garage door closed.
-Vacuum heat registers to clean them. Check to make sure registers, radiators and cold air returns are not blocked by furniture or drapes. Air must circulate through and around them for maximum efficiency.
-Get involved in activities in heated buildings such as senior centers, libraries, churches, and adult day programs. You can turn your home thermostat down while you spend a warm day being active away from home.
-Light cleaning, walking, playing with a pet dog and other activities can increase circulation and make you feel warmer without undue strain.
-Hot meals and beverages can provide both warmth and energy during the cold winter months. A cup of your favorite hot beverage will even do double duty, warming the hands as you hold it and the body as you drink it. Hot cider is one of my favorites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Extreme Cold Guide states: "Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages—they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor."
-Have family members or friends been asking you to visit? Schedule trips during winter months to take advantage of warmer climates. Turn down your thermostat while you are away. You will get the benefit of a warmer climate while reducing your energy bill.
-Caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows are low-cost measures that can reduce drafts and make your home tighter. Seal doors and windows with draft reducing weather-stripping and door sweeps.
-Storm windows help to reduce drafts into and out of existing windows, helping to reduce heating costs. As an alternative, clear plastic sheeting can be taped over the whole window to provide a layer of insulation without blocking daylight. Read more about how to do this here EASY ADD ON STORM WINDOWS FROM THE INSIDE
-Make a draft stopper for your doors and windows. Draft stopper can be placed at the base of doors and windows and are easy to make. Sew a fabric tube or use the sleeve off an old shirt or an old pair of pantyhose and fill it loosely with popcorn kernels or dried beans. For a no-cost fix, try rolling up a bath towel then using it on the floor, up against the door to block the draft. Make sure you are not blocking your exit so you can leave the room quickly in case of an emergency.
-A space heater can heat a small area such as a 'warm room'. Just remember to practice safety when using any portable heater:
Make sure that your heater has a timer, or unplug it when it is not in use. Plug the portable heater directly into an outlet. Do not use an extension cord. Only purchase newer models with safety features
Clear the area around the heater of any furniture, draperies, paper or other combustibles. Take care to set the cord up to avoid creating a tripping hazard.
-Heat from external sources can be helpful in maintaining body warmth. However, if you use a heating pad for warmth, limit the length of time it is close to your skin to avoid potential burns and always turn it off if you are sleepy. Some heating pads come with safety shut-off switches, which will turn off automatically after a specific length of time. There are also pillows or cozies that you can heat in the microwave and that provide safe temporary warmth.
-Change or clean furnace filters according to manufacturer's recommendations. Have a professional tune your furnace so it runs at maximum efficiency.
Is Grandma's kitchen cozy and draft free? Do your parents or an elderly friend have enough wood, propane or heating fuel for the winter?
If a senior citizen, living independently is part of your circle of family or friends, consider starting a new tradition! Cold weather is upon us, so pack a hot lunch and head over the river and through the woods to a senior's home today. Take some weatherizing materials and your tools with you.