Betsy Sawyer-Manter is the president and CEO of SeniorsPlus.  Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

My 87-year-old father lives alone in a rural area. It’s wintertime, so we worry about carbon monoxide, falls, hypothermia.

The best way to avoid these dangers is to be prepared for snow and ice, power outages, and the cold, said Betsy Sawyer-Manter, president and CEO of Lewiston-based SeniorsPlus.

She also advises friends, relatives and neighbors to keep in touch with older people.

“Offer to help get groceries and medication so that the older adult doesn’t have to go out,” she said in an email interview. “Help with snow removal, salting and check to ensure exits are not snowed in.”

She added, “Isolation in the winter is concerning, (and) a friendly visit for a cup of tea is most welcome by most people.”

This could also be a good time to ask: Do they have plenty of easy-to-prepare food, drinking water, backup heat?


My father can check these boxes, and he has plenty of family to check in on him, to plow his driveway and to make sure he’s not alone all the time.

Others aren’t so lucky.

“We suggest people call SeniorsPlus to do a benefit checkup to see what programs and services they are eligible for,” Sawyer-Manter said. “If they are eligible for programs such as SNAP (food stamps), etc., this can free up funds for other things like electricity, heat and food.”

The agency can help with applications, she said, except LIHEAP, which has to go through a local community action agency.

SeniorsPlus also provides home-delivered meals to those who qualify, and offers fall-prevention classes.

“We have a good handle on what resources exist in the communities that we serve,” Sawyer-Manter said. “We can brainstorm ideas and give resource information. Always give us a call, that is why we are here.”


Sawyer-Manter advises:

  • To help keep warm, have blankets or coverlets to use when sitting around the house and/or wear layers of clothes.
  • Avoid icy walkways and driveways to prevent falls, and sand or salt walkways to help avoid slips. (Many public works departments deliver free buckets of sand to older people. Check with your municipality.)
  • Put a jar of sand/ice melt in your car so that you have it available to spread when you park and before you get out of your car.
  • Attach grippers to the bottoms of shoes or boots to prevent slipping. If you use a cane, attach picks for more stability.
  • If unable to cook or shop, call the local Area Agency on Aging for assistance. SeniorsPlus is the agency for Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties.
  • Stay hydrated to reduce the risk of hypothermia.
  • Have a go-to bag for when the power goes out.
  • Prearrange for plowing/shoveling.
  • Have a few days of food and medications on hand.
  • Don’t use your cellphone when you’re walking.
  • Walk with a wider step and toes pointed slightly out, “like a penguin.”
  • If you use space heaters for backup or supplemental heat, it’s important to make space heater safety a priority and follow instructions for safe operation.

“Portable space heaters are responsible for 1,700 house fires a year, on average, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission,” Sawyer-Manter said.

“Fires started by portable space heaters result in about 80 deaths annually,” she said.

She recommends putting a carbon monoxide alarm in the house to avoid poisoning from faulty furnaces or other heat sources.­­­

SeniorsPlus can assist with where these can be purchased and installed, she said.

“Sometimes local governments/fire departments have these at no or low cost. It is always worth checking,” she said. “Never use outdoor equipment such as camp stoves, generators, etc., indoors. We do not encourage kerosene heaters or stoves as heating devices.”

Neighbors should pay extra attention to older adults and their homes, she said. Take notice if mail is not picked up, the driveway and steps are not cleared, or lights are on or off at odd times.

“You can always call or check or call the local authorities to do a well-being check on the person,” she said.

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