17 December 2018

Winter safety tips for older people

Although it’s been getting colder since September, the winter has nearly officially arrived here in the UK (21st December!). And with temperatures sure to plummet even further, it’s even more important to take care of yourself during these winter months, particularly if you’re older.

To ensure you stay safe during the height of the winter, we’ve put together some useful advice and tips.

Keep your house warm

Stave off the cold in your home by turning up the central heating or lighting the fire. Age UK recommends that older people have a central heating temperature of 21°C in living spaces and 18°C in bedrooms during winter. Mangar Health, who offer inflatable handling and bathing equipment, says it’s worth looking into the government’s Winter Fuel Payment scheme to get help with paying your heating bills.

They also suggest taking regular hot baths to keep warm. “There is no quicker (and more pleasant) way to regulate your body temperature than through bathing, especially on a cold day as taking a hot bath is sure to warm you up.” And as an added bonus, the heat from the bath is also great for warming up a chilly bathroom.

Wear suitable clothing

This point goes without saying, but it’s important to ensure you dress suitably for the cold weather and wrap up warm both inside and outside the home. Layers are generally the best option for this because they can be removed easily if you get too hot.

When venturing outside the home, Healthy Women has some advice for staying safe in the cold and icy conditions: “Always layer warm clothes and don a hat, gloves and warm shoes and socks.

“In addition, invest in the correct footwear. For instance, sturdy, low-heeled shoes with a deep, non-skid rubber tread will be much more efficient at preventing falls than trainers.”

Eat well

During the colder months, keeping on top of your nutritional health is imperative for minimising the risk of illness, says Helping Hands Home Care. “Hearty stews, soups and vitamin-rich meals are good ideas for winter. Not only is eating hot food ideal for keeping the body warm, but having a healthy diet is important to keep colds and flu at bay.”

As well as easy nutritious and warming meals, experts also recommend that over 65s eat full-fat foods to minimise the risk of malnutrition this winter. So if you think you might be at risk, consider using extra oils in your cooking, add more butter to your scrambled eggs, use cream instead of milk in your coffee and stock up on sweet treats.

Order prescriptions ahead

Abbeyfield, who offer support services for older people, recommends planning ahead when it comes to your medication. “Ordering your prescriptions ahead of time will ensure you don’t run out of any medication over winter. If you’re unable to collect your prescription due to mobility or weather issues, ask your pharmacy if they can deliver your medication to you.

“It’s also a good idea to keep some cold and flu remedies at home just in case you start to feel unwell.”

Know the symptoms of hypothermia

Although hypothermia may seem unlikely to occur particularly if you are indoors, older people are actually far more likely to be affected than we think. Hypothermia can also be hard to diagnose, so it is important to make yourself aware of the warning signs just to be on the safe side.

The National Institute on Aging says to look out for the following symptoms:

Early signs of hypothermia:

  • Cold feet and hands
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Pale skin
  • Shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
  • Slower than normal speech or slurring words
  • Acting sleepy
  • Being angry or confused

Later signs of hypothermia:

  • Moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
  • Stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Blacking out or losing consciousness

Plan ahead for emergencies

In case of cold-weather emergencies, Abbeyfield recommends taking some steps to ensure you don’t put yourself in harm’s way.

  • Keep a list of emergency numbers, such as family and utility companies, by your phone
  • Keep a torch handy in case you lose power
  • Don’t block air vents or hang washing close to a fire/electric heater
  • Test your smoke alarms
  • Keep your mobile phone charged
  • Tell your neighbours if you’re on your own and worried about the cold weather

Keep moving

Although the last thing you’ll want to do in the cold weather is get moving, it’s a great way to ensure good blood flow, keep you healthy and warm you up.

“Staying active during winter is paramount to keeping you healthy but will also help keep you warm,” says Abbeyfield. “If it’s not too cold, you could take a short walk in the middle of the day. If you’re staying in for the day, look for other ways you can keep active be it armchair exercises or daily chores.”

If you rely on mobility aids and stairlifts, Mangar Health recommends trying to move or stretch every hour or so to ensure you don’t suffer from stiff joints which could, in turn, lead to a fall.

Keep your spirits up

The cold weather and short days often have an effect on people’s mental wellbeing, so it’s important to keep your spirits up during the winter.

Oliver from Care Point recommends keeping an active social life. “Social engagement is a recognised health booster for all seasons, but it can be especially beneficial in the dark days of winter when our spirits can be low, and our energy begins to dip.

“Maintaining an active social calendar and networking with friends is of vital importance and a great way to enjoy yourself and help the winter season pass by.”

As well as being social, Oliver recommends using it as a time to find a new hobby or interest to lift your spirits. “Try something different as a change of pace to spice up the routine, as new hobbies or interests can go a long way.”

Feeling a little glum over winter is nothing to be alarmed about and is often referred to as the ‘winter blues’. But if you think your symptoms may be more severe and only affect you during the winter, you may want to speak to your GP about seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

“You must remember that the ‘winter blues’ will not last forever,” says Oliver. “And before long, you will be out basking in the spring sunshine, walking the dog or whatever you may do! For now, take advantage of what you can! Grab yourself a good hot chocolate, movie or book and watch the snow fall out the window while you still can!”