CHATHAM — A well-known resident and longtime fixture at the Chatham Senior Center, Nancy Olson died Saturday, several days after she suffered accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in her home. Mrs. Olson’s death is renewing calls for seniors to take advantage of various programs designed to help elders live at home safely.
“This is a terrible tragedy and it’s shocking, and it hits close to home for people,” Council on Aging Director Mandi Speakman said.
Mrs. Olson visited the senior center four or five days each week, organizing the Scrabble, cribbage and bridge clubs. In an obituary published in this week’s edition, friends are asked to make memorial donations to the Friends of the Chatham Council on Aging, which is expected to use the funds on home safety programs with the Chatham Fire Department, including the installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon monoxide gas, which cannot be seen or smelled, accumulated in Mrs. Olson’s home, apparently as a result of a vehicle inadvertently left running in the basement garage. Alerted by friends who worried when Mrs. Olson didn’t show up for her regular Scrabble game, police and firefighters found her incapacitated in her home last Monday morning.
The house did not have carbon monoxide detectors, and it was not clear exactly how long Mrs. Olson had been been exposed to the deadly gas. She did not participate in the police department’s longstanding reassurance program, in which seniors call in each morning to let the department know they’re well.
“I hope sincerely that this is used as a moment of realization for people,” Speakman said. The fire department and council on aging provide free carbon monoxide or smoke detectors to clients who need them, and the reassurance program protects seniors who have fallen or experienced another emergency while home alone.
“People need to know what a fabulous set of resources they have at their disposal,” Speakman said. “They just need to take advantage of it.”
Several days before responding to Mrs. Olson’s home, firefighters held a meeting with senior center officials to discuss ways to expand existing outreach programs. Supported by a state Senior SAFE grant, the team will visit the homes of seniors who volunteer to take part, checking for all kinds of hazards and talking about ways to stay safe. A grant from the Friends of the Chatham Council on Aging, including funds given in Mrs. Olson’s memory, is expected to further support this program.
Speakman said the council on aging staff has reached out to the seniors who spent the most time with Mrs. Olson to offer support. On Friday, at the time usually reserved for Scrabble, there will be a special gathering in the dining room.
“It’ll be just hopefully a chance to talk about her and remember,” Speakman said.