Seniors and Snow Removal

Winter Storm Linus dragged its blanket of snow across the North and Northeast portions of the United States earlier this week. Many spent long hours digging out and when, as we here in Chicago experienced, city snowplows couldn’t get to side streets, many of us were trapped in the middle of the road, tires spinning. It’s then that we had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help shovel us out of a mess.

Even for the hale and hearty, navigating treacherous sidewalks, getting from point A to point B, prove to be quite a challenge. Major municipalities like Boston, Chicago have city ordinances that make it a finable offense to neglect clearing snow and ice from property sidewalks.

Most city ordinances require snow removal within a certain period of time (usually within 3-4 hours of snowfall ending) and for a minimum path size in order to accommodate pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, strollers, students walking to and from school, individuals with assistive devices and, ironically, seniors.

These senior homeowners are the same who are compelled to clear their own sidewalk or face considerable fines. The snow that Linus dropped was wet and heavy and fell intermittently all day. Shoveling is hard work and can take a quick toll on the body at any age, but especially if that body is older.

According to a study that appeared in the January 2011 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, cardiac-related injuries accounted for only 7 percent of the total number of cases, but they were the most serious. More than half of the hospitalizations and 100 percent of the 1,647 fatalities occurred while shoveling snow  Patients 55 years of age and older were 4.25 times more likely than younger patients to experience heart attack symptoms while shoveling snow, and men were twice as likely as women to exhibit cardiac-related symptoms. With that in mind, Consumers Advocate has an extensive list of reviews for medical alert devices. When used properly, they can alert the proper authorities whenever it detects a medical emergency.

The City of Chicago provides a volunteer snow-shoveling service called the Snow Corps, which seniors and those with disabilities can contact by calling 311, filling out an online Service Request, or by contacting their Ward office.

Some programs like the Snow Sergeant program in Lansing, MI pair screened and pre-approved High School students needing community volunteer hours with local seniors who need snow removal services.

The Chore Corps Program in Madison, WI is operated by Independent Living, Inc., a local not-for-profit multi-service organization. Following snow storms, volunteers shovel sidewalks and driveways for seniors, allowing the seniors to safely enter and exit their homes.
The volunteers also provide a meals-on-wheels service for independent living seniors.

Caregivers are urged to discourage seniors from clearing their own sidewalks when it would be dangerous for them to do so. Instead, keep them safely inside, warm and well-fed, and contact local authorities for needed support in order to prevent incurring any fines. Living independently is preferred by most seniors, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little assistance.

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