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7 expert tips for reducing outdoor winter dangers for seniors

Prepare for ice and snow like a pro

(1) A person clears snow from their roofline. (2) A frozen-over mailbox sticks out of snow. (3) A person shovels snow out of a path. Credit: Getty Images / AHPhotoswpg / RTsubin / lucentius

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Even if the first flakes are just starting to fall, it’s never too early to think about winter yard care for those who are aging in place. Limited mobility, combined with treacherous conditions, can be the perfect storm for the elderly—especially if they live alone.

But, being proactive with plans to curtail or cut down on shoveling, chipping ice, and buying supplies can make a huge difference.

We talked to some experts for their best tips on winter and yard safety.

1. Pretreat walkways and driveways

A path is cleared on a deck using heating pads.
Credit: HeatTrak

Clear a path with these melting mats.

Pretreating walkways and driveways with salt or ice melt goes a long way, advises Missy McAuley, a nurse and director with Bethesda Home Health, a St. Louis-based senior living and service organization.

Sprinkling it preemptively can help prevent back-straining shoveling of wet, heavy snow.

Michelle Glass, Bethesda’s vice president of senior living and in-home services, recommends snow-melting mats. Many models melt up to 2 inches of snow per hour, and are designed to be left out for the entire winter.

Get the HeatTrak Heated Snow Melting Mats for Walkways at Amazon for $299.95

2. Mitigate tripping hazards

Three pairs of boots from L.L. Bean.
Credit: L.L. Bean

Add style and utility with these L.L. Bean boots.

Falls are one of the top risks endangering seniors’ ability to age in place, which is why preventing winter slips and trips is vital.

McAuley recommends investing in “waterproof boots with non-skid, non-slip soles to be worn whenever seniors leave the house.”

Glass advises replacing rubber tips on canes and walkers to provide additional traction.

It’s also important to remember that winter stumbles can easily occur inside the home—usually at entrances and exits—says Glass. Removing shoes when entering the home will prevent water pooling and potential slips.

As for what to put shoes on or wipe them on, Hen Truong, the founder of Honoring Our Precious Elders, Inc. (H.O.P.E.), says those aging in place should ditch their flimsy welcome mats and opt for something as industrial as possible. “I’ve seen so many mats that roll up when the wind blows, which put form over function and are a real tripping hazard,” he says.

Truong’s Oregon nonprofit organization provides seniors with free, regularly scheduled yard maintenance and outdoor services.

3. Ask others for help

A person shovels snow on a sidewalk.
Credit: Getty Images / Nes

You don't have to handle snow removal alone.

While organizations like Truong’s aren’t common, H.O.P.E doesn’t have the only volunteers motivated to assist. He recommends reaching out to local senior centers for area shoveling and plow resources.

McAuley says senior centers are where elders can get information about programs through their local governments, and adds that church youth groups often provide assistance in inclement weather.

In many communities, tweens and teens looking to earn spare cash can also be found via requests for recommendations on social media.

You can also negotiate a contracted rate with local landscapers, and this is often easiest, says Glass. “In many situations, the same companies or people who cut grass in the spring, summer, and fall will offer snow removal services in the winter.”

4. Clean out the gutters

Dead leaves crowd a gutter.
Credit: Getty Images / cmannphoto

Clogged gutters can cause damage to your home.

Since wet, slippery leaves under snow can be a trip hazard, Truong advises a thorough bundling and removal of fallen leaves in autumn.

It’s also important to clear gutters of leaves and debris before heavy snow starts to fall, says Truong. Not only can clogged gutters cause extensive structural damage to homes, but it can lead to slippery ice forming below due to improper drainage.

Truong cautions that gutter checks should be performed by others—not the elders. “Elders can have a hard time climbing ladders, because of balance and sight issues,” he says.

5. Install outdoor flood lights

Close up of a couple floodlights outside a home.
Credit: Getty Images / StushD80

Dark winter nights call for flood lights.

Because of vision impairment and reduced daylight in winter, it’s essential to illuminate walkways and driveways, says Truong. He recommends adding flood lighting, for this season in particular.

Truong advises thinking from the top down, since many shorter outdoor lamps along walkways and driveways can easily be covered by snowfall. While solar lights are easy to install (with no wires that require digging), they may not get the full power of the sun’s rays during winter and are often less brilliant and durable.

6. Shore up the walkway

Close up of an outdoor railing dusted in snow.
Credit: Getty Images / Andrey Nikitin

Add railing to your porch to give you support.

Installing or upgrading handrails in addition to lights before the ground hardens is advisable, says McAuley, who adds that it’s also a good time to “look for other debris or chipped concrete.” These can “cause falls or injury if not addressed in a timely manner, before the snow or ice arrives,” she says.

7. Ask for municipal accommodations

A postal carrier drops off mail to a resident.
Credit: Getty Images / SolStock

Check to see if you can get mail delivered to your door instead of a far-off mailbox.

Reducing risk is important, says Mike Peck, the vice president of installation at Leaf Home Safety Solutions, and a certified aging in place specialist.

Peck suggests that seniors work with their city to see if mailboxes can be installed closer to the door, for instance, which would eliminate a treacherous walk down a driveway to the box.

It never hurts to ask “if sanitation workers can pick up your trash cans closer to your garage or door,” he says.

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