When the temperature drops, older adults run a higher risk of health problems and injuries related to the weather. It’s important that they, and those who care for them, take certain precautions at this time of year.
Here are some health hazards to avoid:
Who is most at risk?
Very cold weather can affect anyone, but you are most vulnerable if:
- you’re 65 or older
- you’re on a low income (so can’t afford heating)
- you have a long-term health condition, such as heart, lung or kidney disease
- you’re disabled
- you’re pregnant
- you have young children (new-born to school age)
- you have a mental health condition
Dress in layers
Being older, wearing multiple thin layers is a much more effective way of keeping heat in than wearing a single thick item of clothing.
During the day, consider using a cover or blanket while sitting in the chair to stay warm and ensure you are wrapped up at night, including a hat if necessary, as most heat escapes through the head.
If possible, try to stay active at home. Try not to sit still for more than an hour or so indoors – get up and stretch your legs as even moderate exercise can help keep you warm.
Heating & room temperature matter
Older and vulnerable people are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of cold weather. If possible, try to keep rooms at a minimum of 18C. Keeping room doors closed can help to maintain a constant temperature in rooms that are regularly used.
Try to keep homes heated to at least 18C during the day and night. Ask any elderly relative how they say it feels rather than the temperature on the thermostat, even in a warm environment an elderly person can still feel cold. Additionally, you can draw curtains at dusk and keep doors closed to block out draughts and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed – but don’t use both at the same time.
Regular hot meals and drinks
Eating regularly helps people to stay warm, and during the colder months at least one hot meal a day should be eaten, alongside regular hot drinks.
When the weather is particularly bad, consider shopping online for at-home delivery and keep cupboards well stocked with staple foods.
Recognising the symptoms of cold
Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that occurs when the body temperature drops below 35C.
Early signs of hypothermia include shivering, cold and pale skin, fast breathing, tiredness, confusion and slurred speech.
If you suspect someone has hypothermia, call 999 then administer first aid by wrapping them in blankets and giving them a warm drink and sugary food if they’re able to swallow normally.
Fight Wintertime Depression
Because it can be difficult and dangerous to get around, many seniors have less contact with others during cold months. This can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation.
To help avoid these issues, family members can check in on seniors as often as possible; even a short, daily phone call can make a big difference. Seniors can also arrange a check-in system with neighbours and friends, where each person looks in on one or two others daily.
Ensure you have sufficient medication to last the cold spell
If bad weather is forecast, make sure repeat prescriptions are ordered in plenty of time, both to ensure there are no issues with the supply of medication and to provide peace of mind to patients and carers.
Simple cold, flu and sore throat treatments should also be kept in the house to avoid unnecessary extra trips to the pharmacy.
Only Travel if it is necessary and if you do need to travel, allow more time for journeys
One in three adults over the age of 65 experience at least one fall a year, according to NHS figures, and the cold and icy weather presents additional risks. The most important tip to keep in mind during the colder months is to ask for help. If you need to clear your property of snow and ice, don’t hesitate to ask a family member or neighbour.
Allow more time for any journey and keep a supply of grit or salt on hand for removing ice from paths outside the house. Also consider that a fall can lead to a loss of confidence, even once the physical injuries have healed.
Beware Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Using a fireplace, gas heater can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Ensure your safety by checking the batteries on your carbon monoxide detector and buying an updated one if you need to.