Keeping the elderly safe in sub-zero temperatures

Tom Austin drives Fisher resident Margarite Elder to her doctor’s appointments during the snowy months. Experts say in these conditions, even a simple errand could be deadly for the elderly.

Tuesday's high was a mere four degrees in Champaign. Despite the dangerously low temperatures and icy conditions, resident Margarite Elder needed to get to her doctor's appointment.

"The bus driver started going two more blocks further back,” Elder said. “You'd have to walk two blocks to get to get to the hospital and I couldn't do that."

That's where volunteer drivers like Tom Austin come in.

"The way I tell my friends is they say 'what do you do?' And I say, 'well, I drive old people like me to their doctor's appointments.'"

Austin is a driver for the Family Service Senior Resource Center in Champaign. This organization knows how dangerous a simple doctor’s appointment or a trip to the store can be for seniors.

"They are more likely to fall and slip on snow and ice and more likely to be injured if they do take a fall,” Terry Goode with the resource center said. “They take medications a lot of times, they can run out of their medications. It means they have to get out in the snow and ice."

Goode said offering a ride or even running errands for the elderly is just some of the ways you can help seniors during this time of year. Another important thing folks can do is make sure seniors are using enough heat in their homes.

"If their house gets colder than 65 degrees, they could be at risk for hypothermia,” Goode said.

If a senior keeps their heat down due to financial concerns, they can contact the Family Service Senior Resource Center for Help at (217) 352-5100.

Austin encourages other community members to volunteer as a driver for the center during this time of year. He says the number of seniors needing rides is constantly increasing.

"I try to make sure nobody has to walk on ice,” Austin said. “I don't want to walk on it because I don't want to void the warranty on my new knees."

Elder says with weather like this, drivers like Austin are something she couldn’t go without.

"It's wonderful, I don't know what I'd do without it,” Elder said. "You look forward to it. Especially if it's Tom."

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