Look Out For Your Older Neighbors This Winter
By CEO Deb Taylor
We know there are very real emotional, mental and physical health risks that come with social isolation in seniors. It can lead to higher blood pressure levels, higher rates of mortality and a quicker cognitive decline. The debilitating consequences of this are only amplified when compounded with the physical isolation that extreme winter weather can cause for an older adult.
No one in the world knows the harsh realities of a tough winter better than Minnesotans. We’ve all spent hours clearing driveways and digging our cars out from an avalanche of winter fury. But as we get older, our capacity to deal with the fallout of winter storms naturally lessens.
Over 90% of people over age 65 want to age in place, meaning staying at home for as long as possible before having to move into some sort of assisted living, but the inability to clear heavy snowfall and ice quickly becomes a very real barrier to making that possible.
Across the metro, there is an unmet need for hundreds of our seniors due to a lack of affordable support services. Senior Community Services, Minnesota’s largest nonprofit chore program, had to stop taking snow removal requests for this upcoming winter in September due to a lack of snow removal workers.
“It’s frustrating when a senior calls us and we know they need help, and we just can’t provide anyone to help them,” said Jon Burkhow, the director of the Household & Outside Maintenance program for Senior Community Services, “even after we raised our wages for snow removal workers to $20 per hour.”
Because of the risk of falls on icy walkways or just due to amount of snow, leaving your home for any reason can suddenly become a daunting notion and leave someone isolated and distraught. This means not getting to medical appointments, grocery stores, or social interactions with friends and family.
“Heavy snow can makes older adults feel trapped. And I don’t blame them,” Burkhow said, “We live in Minnesota; a snowstorm here can literally trap you in your home for days. That’s a real concern and fear when you can’t get out there yourself to remove the snow and ice.” Burkhow said hiring enough help to serve our seniors in need has been especially challenging these past few winters. “It makes a real difference when we connect a senior to a caring individual who can provide this help.”
If you have an older neighbor, please consider checking in on them this winter season. Provide support where you can. Maybe this means checking in after especially heavy snowfalls to lend a hand with shoveling or plowing. Sometimes it means just stopping by for a visit and letting them know they are not alone in this. Often enough, just looking out for your neighbor can be enough to extend their time in their own home by years and provide an important sense of security.
Senior Community Services doesn’t want the reason someone is forced to leave their own home to be because of the small chores that add up. As a community, there are ways we can come together and prevent this. Part of that is securing access to affordable options that to help us age in place. A greater part is simply looking out for your neighbors, taking care of the community that’s taken care of you in the past. It’s what makes a house a home.