PLATTSBURGH — With a layer of snow already covering the region, North Country residents may face a long winter waiting for the first buds of spring.
For senior citizens, that may translate to more time spent indoors and more obstacles to face when going outside. But seniors can take several steps to improve their safety and reduce the potential for accidents.
One important source of support is the Lifeline personal-response system.
“Lifeline services certainly can be a service to (seniors), especially at this time of year,” said Elthea Stiegman, coordinator of Lifeline Services for North Country Home Services. “Just knowing there is help at the push of a button can be very reassuring for people.”
North Country Home Services provides the Lifeline personal-response system for more than 1,000 residents across upstate New York, including Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. The service allows people to send an emergency signal from wherever they may be in their home without having to reach a phone.
“A person has to have a land line (phone) in the home, but they wear the button on a necklace or wristband,” Stiegman said. “If a person happens to fall, all they have to do is push the button, and they will receive immediate attention.”
A monitor allows the person seeking help to talk with personnel at North Country Home Services, who can then take the appropriate measures to alert emergency-response personnel if needed.
“A majority of the time, the seniors will tell us what they want or need,” Stiegman said. “Maybe they’re not feeling well, or they do need rescue. We’ll keep the subscriber on the line, talk to them while getting them help at the same time.”
Lifeline staff will also have the phone numbers of a subscriber’s neighbors to contact when the system is activated.
“We will typically get the name and phone number of neighbors and call them to see if they mind being put on as contacts for a subscriber,” Stiegman said. “Usually, people will say it’s not a problem (to be a contact for a senior in the neighborhood).”
The Lifeline system has a $40 one-time installation fee. The monthly fee for the service is $36 for one button and $46 for two buttons. For more information, call 1 (800) 610-6247.
Other measures can benefit seniors living at home as well.
“One of the things we like to stress during the winter is to have an alternative heating source,” said Martha Gulley, a case manager for the Clinton County Office for the Aging. “A lot of people don’t know what to do if their power goes out. The best thing for them is to have an alternative place to go and stay warm if that happens.”
People with wood stoves need to take special care to manage their stoves safely during blackouts, she added, but the Office for the Aging recommends not using propane heaters or generators that could increase carbon-monoxide levels in the home.
“Another thing to have handy at all times is a flashlight or a battery-operated lantern,” Gulley said. “When the lights go out is not the time to be searching for a light source.”
She also suggests having a supply of nutritious foods that do not need to be cooked available during emergencies. Meals on Wheels always provides an extra meal for its clients to get them through storms when the service might be closed for a day, but alternative meals could be advantageous as well, she said.
Peanut butter and jelly is an ideal option for nutritious and easy-to-prepare foods, she added.
When seniors do make their way outdoors, they have to take extra precautions when conditions are icy or snowy.
“Make sure you have boots with good traction and railings to hold onto when you’re moving up and down steps,” Gulley said. “Also, make sure you layer your clothing. Put on heavy socks, sweater, long underwear.”
Seniors should also keep an eye on their fuel supply to make sure they do not run out during the winter season.
Gulley also suggested having a neighborhood-support system for all kinds of winter emergencies.
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SAFETY TIPS More tips for making homes safer: • Use slip-resistant material under throw or area rugs in your home. • Place slip-resistant material in your tub to reduce risk of falling. • Avoid using electrical extension cords. • Keep some kitty litter or pet-safe ice melt near the door to spread before taking the stairs or walking on the sidewalk around your home. • Make certain your bathrobe allows you to walk freely without fear of tripping on the robe. • Place a list of important phone numbers near the phone in case of emergency. • Make sure you have working smoke detectors on every level of your home where you can hear them from your sleeping area. • Keep cooking surfaces clean and free from anything that can catch fire. • Keep eyeglasses, keys, hearing aids and a phone within reach next to your bed. • Stay calm when the smoke alarm sounds. Get out fast and stay out. Never go back inside for people, pets or things. --From Maryann Barto, public-health educator for the Clinton County Health Department's Healthy Neighborhoods Program.