With winter weather now in full swing, we wanted to share a few tips from the Mayo Clinic (and others) for people with disabilities for being safe during extreme weather.
People with disabilities may want to take extra care during the cold weather season. Some disabling conditions may limit sensory abilities and the ability to maintain body heat, so be particularly vigilant about staying warm when you are out in low temperatures during cold weather.
- Wear multiple layers of clothing, including a scarf around your neck, a winter hat, lined boots and two pairs of socks.
- If possible, wear thermal gloves underneath mittens to keep your hands warm.
- It’s also a good idea to carry a cell phone.
If you travel in a wheelchair, wrap a small blanket around your legs, tucking it underneath yourself or around your sides. This will help to maintain body heat. Wheelchair users may consider purchasing pneumatic tires for better traction. Another alternative is to use standard dirt bicycle tires. Use table salt or clay cat litter to clear ramps. Rock salt can poison working assistance animals and also may be slippery. Remove the tires from your wheelchair and shake debris and ice off them before placing them in your vehicle. Wipe down any metal surfaces (wheelchair tire rims, walkers, etc.) as soon as possible after returning home. This will prevent rusting.
If you are a wheelchair user and unaccustomed to heavy, strenuous wheeling, be very careful when traveling through snow. The added exertion could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Freezing rain also will stick to surfaces such as canes, walkers, forearm cuffs and wheelchairs. Use gripper driving gloves to keep your hands warm and to prevent slipping.
If you use a working assistance dog, remember that dogs also can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. Get a dog coat to place under the harness, and consider getting boots for the paws. Also, have a blanket in your vehicle for the dog.
Additional tips for people with spinal cord injuries:
- Register with the medical or social needs registries.
- If you receive home-based care (e.g., homecare attendant, home health aide, visiting nurse service), include caregivers in developing your plan. And familiarize yourself with your homecare agency’s emergency plan.
- If you rely on home-delivered meals, always stock nonperishable food at home in case meal deliveries are suspended during an emergency.
- Have a plan with your doctor that addresses emergency prescription refills, if possible.
- If you receive dialysis or other medical treatments, find out your provider’s emergency plan. That includes where your back-up site is located.
- If you get home delivery of medical supplies for incontinence or diabetes, make sure you have enough supplies to last 2-3 weeks; and if not, contact your distributor who can make sure you have enough!
- Develop and stay in touch with a nearby network of assistance – neighbors, relatives, care attendants, friends, and co-workers — preferably before winter storms or record cold moves in. Never depend on one person alone.
- If you rely on medical equipment that requires electric power, contact your medical supply company for information regarding a back-up power source such as a battery. Ask your utility company if the medical equipment qualifies you to be listed as a life-sustaining equipment customer.
- If you have a pet or service animal, also plan for his or her needs (e.g., temporary relocation, transportation, etc.).
- Consider investing in a capacitor ($50-$80) – which is a rechargeable battery that is used to recharge cell phones, mp3 players and other small electronic devices. If you can afford it – there are also some comparably priced portable solar generators ($500-$800) sufficient to power medical equipment (oxygen concentrators, CPAP machines or re-charge power chairs).
But what if the emergency requires evacuation?
People with disabilities must ensure they can quickly escape their homes in an emergency. Patients in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation are educated about large-scale disasters, such as floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, as well as small-scale events, such as home fires.
“We see an additional need for patients with disabilities to prepare to respond to disaster situations,” says Lisa Beck, a clinical nurse specialist at Mayo Clinic. “As we learned during Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, persons with disabilities need to consider a number of different factors. Such as identifying who is in their support system, special transportation needs. And what supplies to include in their emergency preparedness kits.”
Beck worked with disabled patients to design patient education materials. She recommends that people with disabilities take the following steps to ensure they prepared themselves:
- Practice getting out of the house quickly at least twice a year.
- Discuss any special needs with a local emergency medical services provider.
- Plan where to shelter, how to get there and who may need to provide assistance.
- Prepare an emergency preparedness kit to last 24 to 48 hours. That includes medication lists, contact numbers, medications, catheter supplies, first aid kit and extra glasses.
- Consider shelter and supplies for service animals.
These are some great weather suggestions – so whether it’s a snow storm or a hurricane ripping up your area, follow the Boy Scout motto and – ALWAYS PREPARE!! And I just can’t stress enough. Make sure you have enough medical supplies for 2-3 weeks, you never know what might happen!