By Debbie Gardner
Carolyn Brennan has worked in Aging Network for 30 years, 20 of them as the director for area senior centers. For the past 12 years she’s filled that role at the East Longmeadow Senior Center, where she’s had the opportunity to work with – and advise – numerous seniors who were making preparations to head to warmer climes for the winter.
When Prime reached out to her for tips for new – and veteran – snowbirds preparing to head south after the holidays, she was happy to share her insights. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Whether this is their first Snowbird season, or they’re a winterescape veteran, what are the most important items people should pack before heading south?
“The biggest thing we recommend to our seniors who are leaving us for the winter is to put all insurance policies, prescription information, doctor contact information and medical histories together in one packet, and be sure you bring that packet of information with you to Florida – or wherever you’re going for your winter break. In particular, check on your prescriptions to make sure they are all up to date so if you need any refills while you are away, they will be easy to get.
“Overseeing the East Longmeadow Senior Center for many years, I can remember several times when one of our seniors who came here regularly got sick while in Florida, and how much work it was for them to get all the information they needed for treatment. They just didn’t expect it to happen, and weren’t prepared.
“Another critical piece of information we recommend our snowbirds pack is the contact information for all of your utility companies. You never know what may happen back here, or you may even get ill while away and not be coming back when you have planned.”
Q: What are some of the other critical things you recommend people put in place and plan for before heading for warmer climates?
“If you are going to be away for an extended period of time, it’s important to arrange to have people watch your house, or condo, or apartment. Make sure more than one person you trust has keys, and that one of those people is designated to check that pipes have not burst in cold weather, or snow or ice have not damaged your property. You should also arrange to have a handyman on call that you can contact to make repairs in your absence, should something happen.
“Speaking of snow and ice, if you are a homeowner, it’s important that you make arrangements for someone to shovel or plow your driveway, and take care of your walkways and any sidewalks on your property following every storm. Even if you are not in residence, you are still responsible if someone slips and falls on your property because of poor cleanup, and untended snow is a clear sign to burglars and vandals that no one is living in your home.”
Q: Are there any other tasks that people should attend to before packing up and taking off?
“I think there are some common sense things that we take for granted we would do, but it’s never a bad idea to create a checklist so you don’t forget to do something in the rush to leave. Make sure you clean out your refrigerator. Obviously, arrange to keep your heat set at a reasonable temperature so your pipes don’t freeze. Make sure everything is turned off – I would unplug a lot of appliances that you know won’t be in use. Turn off the water to washing machines and dishwashers. Most people do remember to do something about their mail – either arrange to have it held if it’s a short winter trip, or have it forwarded if you are going to be gone until spring.
“And the last thing, even if you have arranged for designated people to check your property, let a trusted neighbor or two know you are going to be gone. I think a lot of time we know our neighbor’s habits; I know I would get nervous if a neighbor’s home suddenly got quiet and I didn’t know they were gone”.