Sadly, each winter one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold weather and many more become seriously ill.
Age UK research highlights that there is a general lack of awareness of the effects that cold weather can have on an older person’s health. There is also a prevalent belief that leaving a window open on a cold winter’s night to let in fresh air is good for your health, whereas the opposite is true – breathing in cold air lowers body temperature and can increase the risk of chest infections.
There is no doubt that winter weather is bad for health. According to Public Health England (PHE), each year we see increases in emergency admissions to hospital and deaths in winter, particularly in older adults and those with respiratory and other long term diseases. These effects occur over a period of several weeks, with an early peak from heart disease and strokes and a later rise due to respiratory causes.
Keep an eye on your neighbours and family this winter.
Snow and ice effects can cause slips, trips and falls – perhaps surprisingly most often in the younger working age population. This may be because older people tend to stay indoors when the weather’s bad for fear of falling outside. The downside of course is that it can be difficult to get out to the shops or chemists to pick up supplies and can cut people off from social contact.
Some people can find that the weather can leave them feeling trapped, alone at home. You might want to think about whether you could offer some practical help to family, friends and neighbours who might be in that situation. PHE suggest a handful of ideas for what to do: perhaps you could offer to do their shopping or pick up a prescription? Would it help to clear their path or drive; would they like a lift somewhere? Is there a form that needs to be filled in to get a benefit they’re entitled to that they’re having problems with?
As we get older it takes longer to warm up and quickly recover from the cold. Being cold thickens the blood and increases blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.We issue Cold Weather Alerts to keep health and social care professionals informed about winter weather conditions that may impact on people’s health. Find out about the latest alert.
The good news is that there are simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and well this winter:
•Keep your living room temperature at 70° F (21° C)
•Keep your bedroom at 65° F (18° C)
•Keep your bedroom window closed at night when the weather is cold
These temperatures are based on the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. If older people still feel cold in airlifttheir homes in these temperatures, they should raise the temperature of their thermostat until they feel comfortable.
Through Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign, we are calling on everyone to recognise the importance of keeping warm and well this winter and to think about older friends, neighbours and relatives as the temperature drops.
Age UK is offering a free ‘Winter Wrapped Up’ information guide to help older people stay warm, healthy and as comfortable as possible this winter. Not only does it contain a free room thermometer, it is also full of useful tips on how to:
•Get ready for the cold weather
•Protect yourself against common winter illnesses
•Keep warm, indoors and out
•Make your home more energy efficient
To order free copies of Age UK’s Winter Wrapped Up and, please call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65. For more information on Spread the Warmth, go to www.spreadthewarmth.co.uk.
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