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How Older Adults Protect Themselves From Cold Weather Risks

Winter landscape

Winter can be a punishing time. Every year, residents across the Midwest and East Coast must steel themselves for blizzards and icy travel conditions. Even those who live in warmer regions find themselves adjusting their routines because of a cold snap. 

During these shorter days, it’s especially important to think about your health needs and take precautions. You may already prepare for winter by changing your tires, stocking up on ice melt salt, and covering your windows. Let’s consider what other steps you can take to stay safe and how your Medicare coverage can help. 

Safety Precautions for the Winter Months 

In the winter, it’s important for everyone to bundle up in layers and minimize their exposure to extreme cold. But you should also be aware of how your personal health could make freezing temperatures a worse danger for you. For example, conditions like diabetes or hypothyroidism, as well as some prescription drugs, might make it harder for you to stay warm. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 14% of U.S. adults between the ages of 65 and 74 and about 24% of those over 75 live with heart disease. Heart issues make shoveling snow and other vigorous activities especially risky. If you could use a hand, many communities have programs that will send someone to assist with clearing the driveway.  

When you do venture outdoors during the winter, think ahead to protect yourself from hazards like falls. Use ice melt to clear your walkways, make sure your boots have plenty of traction for slippery conditions, walk slowly, and hold onto the handrail while you use stairs.  

In case severe weather puts you in a potentially dangerous situation, have an emergency kit ready. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends packing supplies such as: 

  • Bottled water 
  • Non-perishable food like canned goods and protein bars 
  • Flashlight 
  • First aid kit 
  • Battery-powered radio 
  • Prescription drugs 
  • Hand sanitizer 

Finding Help With Home Weatherization 

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five injuries related to cold exposure happen inside the home. There are resources available to make your home both safer and more energy efficient, like the Weatherization Assistance Program offered through the U.S. Department of Energy.  

This program provides states with the funding to update about 35,000 homes per year for residents with low incomes. Auditors analyze the house as a whole, identifying basic improvements — like weather stripping — that could keep a home warmer and save power as well as examining the heating and cooling systems, electrical systems, and appliances. Workers then come in to make the necessary installations. 

Consider a Personal Emergency Response System 

Many older adults get peace of mind from a personal emergency response system (PERS), a two-way communication device — often a bracelet or pendant — that alerts a response center in case of a medical crisis or fall. If necessary, the professionals at the other end contact local authorities to assist. These devices are especially valuable if you’re living alone and particularly during the winter, when you’re more likely to slip or experience other health issues due to the cold. 

Unfortunately, Original Medicare, the federal health insurance program mainly for people over 65, does not cover a medical alert system since these devices are not considered medical equipment.  

Medicaid, which is for people with low incomes and limited resources, does sometimes provide coverage for a system, depending on where you live. That’s because Medicaid is different in every state; some include PERS among other home-based and community services while others do not. Various restrictions apply, so check with your local health agency for details. 

Certain Medicare Advantage plans will also help with the cost of emergency response systems. These plans, offered by private insurance carriers, provide a wide range of supplemental benefits on top of substituting for Original Medicare, such as prescription drug coverage, dental, hearing, and vision. Consult with a licensed insurance agent to learn about the options that are available in your area or to better understand your current health plan coverage. 

By planning for emergencies, seeking out community resources, and making sure you have insurance that meets your needs, you can have a safer, healthier winter.  

About GoHealth 

GoHealth is a leading health insurance marketplace and Medicare-focused digital health company. Enrolling in a health insurance plan can be confusing for customers, and the seemingly small differences between plans can lead to significant out-of-pocket costs or lack of access to critical medicines and even providers. GoHealth combines cutting-edge technology, data science, and deep industry expertise to build trusted relationships with consumers and match them with the healthcare policy and carrier that is right for them. Since its inception, GoHealth has enrolled millions of people in Medicare plans and individual and family plans. For more information, visit