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Shovel Snow for Elderly Neighbors

by Kathy Bruins
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Snow shoveling can be hazardous to the health of senior citizens. In the United States, approximately 16.500 people received treatment in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with shoveling snow, according to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission. The elderly are particularly at risk because of the lifting and twisting involved in snow shoveling and because many older people have pre-existing heart problems.

Extra strain is added on the body from cold air, which makes it more difficult to breathe and move. Icy conditions also promote the chance of falling, causing injury to an elderly neighbor who may not walk as stably as you.

The average snow shovel loaded with 16 pounds of snow ends up moving 192 pounds of snow if you load your shovel about 12 times a minute. That's almost 2,000 pounds being lifted in just over 10 minutes!

Despite these considerable dangers, elderly neighbors might risk shoveling snow due to fear of entrapment -- worried that they may not get out of their home or that someone may not get to them. Financial constraints may discourage an elderly person on a fixed income from calling someone to plow and shovel snow for them, or from purchasing a snow blower.

If you remove snow for elderly neighbors, they are likely to be very thankful for your kindness. If they are not home, you may consider leaving a note. While this is a wonderful random act of kindness, you may also be saving a life. You might even be offered a tasty cup of hot chocolate from a grateful neighbor.

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Make sure that you are in good physical condition for snow shoveling. You may be at increased risk of heart attack while shoveling snow if you have a history of smoking, heart trouble, other health problems, or just a sedentary lifestyle. Start slowly, be careful not to over-exert yourself, and rest regularly. Drinking plenty of water can help, as can dressing in layers so that clothing can be removed as you heat up.

Next, consider who is elderly in your neighborhood. If you don't know, ask a neighbor. That conversation might inspire your neighbor to join you.

Shoveling walks and driveways is a great opportunity to help the elderly, as well as to get to know them better. Rarely would anyone refuse your offer to snow blow or shovel, but if there is a concern, simply introduce yourself and explain that you're a neighbor who wants to help. Or, seek an introduction from a mutual friend.

A Tip to Help You Help Them: By applying liquid floor wax on the shovel, friction is greatly reduced. Snow doesn't stick to the shovel, making the work lighter. Also, check out this Harvard University article on how to protect your heart and back when shoveling snow. 

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