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Elderly Residents Cope With Feeling Shut-In During Frigid Weather

Marti Mikkelson

Cold weather for some Milwaukeeans equals immobility and isolation.

Milwaukee County estimates that 20,000 older and/or disabled people become immobile when the temperature plunges or snow flies.

Denise Koss suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She says she’s thankful to have a support network during the cold, dark months.

“I live in a large apartment complex and my neighbors help me out, and I have family that helps me, but it gets to be a very long winter,” Koss says.

Dawn Green says she dreads the cold weather. She says it’s isolating, so she does what she can to overcome feelings of depression. “I paint and I stay active in other things. I’m an advocate with Independence First and I stay active in my church,” Green says.

Green also uses a wheelchair to get around and says she relies on friends to shovel her walkway, so she can eventually leave home.

Karl Ray is 85-years old and drives his son to appointments and grocery shopping. The younger has visual impairments; so sometimes when Ray can’t get out because of the weather, neither can his son.

“He’s disappointed perhaps but he understands it’s difficult to get places if people don’t help him out. I’m more than happy to do it because I’m available,” Ray says.

The county and several of its partners step up their outreach during rough winter times, according to Stephanie Sue Stein of Milwaukee County's Department on Aging.

“Our number one focus is getting people to any medical appointments. We have a big priority and we provide tens of thousands of rides every year to do that,” Stein says.

Stein says county partners include the non-profit Interfaith Older Adult Programs of Milwaukee. In addition to providing rides, volunteers bring meals to people shut in and respond to emergencies.

Stein says the biggest county program, serving people with disabilities is para-transit. If needed, the van service can help people reach medical appointments and meal programs in the dead of winter, and even travel to senior centers – when folks need to socialize.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.