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Protecting vulnerable loved ones in severely cold weather

On Behalf of | Jan 30, 2019 | Elder Law |

The winter of 2019 is shaping up to be one of the coldest on record across the country. Those of us with loved ones who are particularly susceptible to harm from frigid conditions — the elderly, developmentally disabled, mentally ill or physically handicapped — can take steps to protect them.

In addition to caring for disabled or aged loved ones out of concern and love, people who are guardians, conservators, agents, trustees or caregivers have legal responsibilities in this regard. Family members and those with duties of care — whether private or professional — can help provide a safety net in severe cold.

Clothing, living conditions and transportation

Many things are common sense to most people in cold weather like wearing appropriate outerwear and footwear, keeping furnaces tuned up, installing fire and carbon monoxide detectors, warming up vehicles, keeping cars and trucks well maintained and having an emergency plan in case of breakdown and other similar practices. But for someone with physical disabilities or cognitive impairments, such self-care may not be possible.

Whoever lives with or cares for a vulnerable person can take extra steps in extreme weather to be sure the person dresses warmly and appropriately before going out. It also may be a good idea just to stay home and not risk exposure in dangerous conditions.

When an older or developmentally disabled person lives in a group home, nursing home or other type of institutional care setting, family members and guardians should actively communicate with management and staff about safety concerns and expectations. A guardian should be sure that the protected person has appropriate clothing.

Those with financial responsibilities on behalf of a protected person like a conservator, agent with a power of attorney or trustee should ensure that the money needed to provide clothing and safe living conditions and transportation is available for those expenditures.

The Minnesota Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has created a Winter Alert tip sheet with suggestions for care facilities. For example, management should choose a wind chill temperature at which no one goes outdoors.


Some vulnerable people may elope from home or go outside without proper outerwear. During cold weather, family members or staff should take extra protective steps to be sure that the disabled person stays safely inside and supervised. Should elopement happen, law enforcement should be contacted immediately.

Public News Service suggests the use of wristbands with GPS to help locate Coloradans with Alzheimer’s who may wander outside. Such technology could also assist in the protection of people with other kinds of dementia or developmental disabilities.

Independent living

Some vulnerable adults can live in the community, but in times of extreme weather may become isolated and unable to obtain food and medication. Relatives, friends and those with legal duties of care for them should see that they remain safe.

Any Coloradan concerned about the safety of a vulnerable person in this winter season can talk to an elder law attorney about what legal means are available to put protections in place.