Through the recent holidays, we experienced some harsh winter weather conditions. Without the proper preparations for homes or personal safety, older adults are at higher risk of injuries and issues related to cold temperatures. When the temperature drops, outdoor conditions can become too dangerous, causing a decrease in physical and social activity; however, preparing for these challenges can ensure that older adults can live their most fulfilling lives, even during the harshest weather conditions.
Age Friendly Seattle’s Civic Coffee in November 2022 introduced winterization, which is the process of preparing for cold temperatures and winter months. This can mean making sure your environment and health are in the best shape possible to withstand harsh winter weather.
Aging and Disability Services senior planner Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN moderated a panel discussion about winterization, featuring Carol Redfield, an Adjunct Professor of Nursing at Seattle Pacific University; Sokha Danh, a community engagement specialist at the Seattle Office of Housing; and Martha Peppones, who previously directed nutrition and advocacy at Homage Senior Services.
One of the highest priorities for winterization is making sure physical environments are in the best conditions to accommodate older adults. This can mean making sure heating systems are up to date, clearing leaves out of walkways, salting sidewalks and roads, and more. Carol shared tips to prevent falls by investing in traction cleats for shoes, having good lighting, and bumper pants to cushion falls when they do happen. She also stressed resilience and reserve during winter months. This means having enough food and water as well as flashlights or candles in the house to sustain yourself in case you cannot leave.
Two ways the City of Seattle is helping older adults and other homeowners prepare for cold weather is through the City’s HomeWise Weatherization Program and Home Repair loan. HomeWise aims to provide the most efficient energy service completely free for people who qualify due to low incomes. This program can provide energy audits and updates to insulation, air sealing, and furnaces.
The Home Repair loan program provides affordable loans to income-qualified homeowners to address critical health, safety, and structural issues. These loans can be used for various types of repairs such as roofing, siding, and electrical work. For both programs, the City provides a project manager who works with homeowners every step of the way.
Sokha mentioned that the Office of Housing winterization programs’ main clientele is older adults because, as people age, their houses will age as well; however, many older people are hesitant to sign up due to the income requirements and language barriers. Although these programs are income-restricted, many will be surprised to see that they qualify for them. Sokha also highlighted that the income levels change every year for these programs, so even if you did not qualify for it in the past, you might qualify now. The City of Seattle is also committed to combating issues surrounding language access by providing interpretation to ensure everyone has equal access to the services they need.
Aside from keeping homes in the good condition, it is also important to keep the health of our bodies and minds well. This means preparing our bodies by eating healthfully and making sure we stay up to date with flu shots and vaccines. Martha talked about nutrition, saying a diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables (aim for lots of different colors) can ensure that you have the vitamins necessary to keep a strong immune system for the winter. Some vitamins and minerals that are important for a strong body are calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and vitamin D. She also stressed that people should work with their healthcare providers to see what kind of nutrition they need, and how much.
Martha and Carol discussed the importance of staying hydrated during the winter months. Dehydration can lead to various preventable health issues, so making sure to drink enough water each day is crucial. Martha suggested a warm bowl of healthy soup or broth for hydration during cold weather; however, food and drinks with too much salt, sugar, or caffeine can also be dehydrating, so low-sodium options are best. Dehydration can also cause dry and cracked skin. Moisturizing lotions, soaps, and oatmeal baths can help prevent and treat skin irritations.
One way that people are encouraged to eat healthier is by eating with others. In the October 2022 Civic Coffee, we mentioned how food could foster community and relationships. Eating together with friends or family can help reduce social isolation. Senior meal sites can also be a way to enjoy good food in the company of others. In times when you cannot leave the house, phone or video calls to loved ones during mealtimes can also help reduce isolation.
Although the winter months can be challenging for older adults, knowing how to prepare our environment and bodies for the cold can ensure everyone can enjoy all the joy the winter season brings. Learn more from our panelists about winterization by watching a full videorecording of the November Civic Coffee on our YouTube station.
The November Civic Coffee was hosted at Seattle Housing Authority High Point—our second joint hybrid event at this location, made possible by Ella McRae, the community builder at High Point. We were able to enjoy the company of the High Point community while having a conversation about how to best prepare ourselves for winter. The event offered multiple live translations in Somali, Vietnamese, and Oromo. We encourage you to keep an eye out for our next in-person event in the future to further engage with the community.
The Age Friendly Seattle team hopes you stay warm and healthy during the winter, and we hope to see you at our Civic Coffee on January 19.
Contributor Ronya Tan is an intern on the Age Friendly Seattle team who provides community outreach and program support. She is a student at the University of Washington.