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4 tips for supporting older people in cold weather

We’ve shared our advice to help older adults stay healthy and well as the weather starts to get cooler, and the days get shorter. 

When you think of Autumn, you may think of falling leaves, hearty comfort food and cosying up indoors. However, this time of year can pose some challenges for older adults.

To help keep everyone safe and healthy this autumn, we’ve shared our tips for supporting older people in colder weather. 

Heating the home

One of the biggest problems for older adults is staying warm in colder months. A drop in body temperature can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, flu, and pneumonia, all of which can develop fairly quickly. Keeping the home well heated is especially important for those with underlying or ongoing health complaints.

Some older people worry about the cost of heating their home, and will avoid using central heating even in extremely cold weather to save money.

The UK government has a couple of heating schemes for the elderly to help with energy bills during colder months. If you or your loved one are over 65, you could get between £100 and £300 from the government with the Winter Fuel Payment. And, for periods when the temperature drops below zero degrees celsius, you could get an extra £25 a week with the Cold Weather Payment

If you’re worried about a loved one who is living alone, make a note to check that their heating is on, and all the radiators in the house, and hot water are working properly when you visit.

 If they prefer to use space heaters or electric blankets it’s crucial these are checked too, especially if they have an old BEAB safety mark, as this means they are over 10 years old. Old and faulty electric blankets alone account for over 5000 fires a year. Any qualified electrician should be able to test these for you every couple of years. 

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Why do older adults feel the cold?

As we age our skin becomes thinner, and we lose some of the fat beneath the skin. This makes it harder to retain heat in the body. 

Our metabolic rate – the number of calories we need to function, decreases too. This can mean that some older people aren’t able to create enough body heat to stay at a healthy temperature. 

Staying well 

Contagious illnesses such as colds and flu are more common during colder times of the year, and are often more debilitating for older adults. Our immune systems become a little less effective as we age, so it can take longer to recover, and could develop into chest or sinus infections. 

The best way to stay healthy is prevention. Everyone age 50 and over can get a free flu vaccine from a GP or local pharmacy. Flu can be really unpleasant, so it’s a good idea to get the jab even if you or your loved one are generally fit and healthy. You can even get your seasonal flu jab while doing the weekly food shop, with Tesco and Asda now offering them at their larger stores. 

It’s also important to keep your or your loved ones home well stocked with everything they need to stay well and prevent infection. Ensuring prescriptions aren’t running low, and keeping plenty of tissues, hand sanitiser and antibacterial sprays around the home can bring peace of mind, especially if the weather turns and it’s not as easy to get out and about. 

Protect against falls

Fallen leaves and wet or icy pavements and paths are dangerous for everyone. However for older people who may be unsteady on their feet, and more prone to bone fractures they pose a serious risk. Older bones can also take longer to heal, and this recovery process can take its toll on both physical and mental wellbeing. 

If you’re unable to clear leaves or grit paths yourself, a neighbour may be able to help. Alternatively sites like Gumtree or Taskrabbit can connect you to local handyman services or gardeners to suit all kinds of budgets. 

Colder weather can also cause arthritis flare ups and make joint pain worse. Experts aren’t 100 percent sure why this happens, but it’s thought a drop in air pressure can cause joints to expand – leading to pain. Low temperatures can also thicken the natural shock-absorbing layer in the joints, which can make them stiff. 

Making an effort to stay active can help keep joints comfortable and reduce the risk of accidents. Even gentle chair based exercises can support mobility and balance. 

It’s also a good idea to organise an eye test at this time of year too, as with shorter days comes lower visibility. If you or your loved one drives, you may want to consider using public transport or taxis when travelling in dark or rainy conditions.  

Preventing loneliness 

Half of people over the age of 75 live alone, and when the weather gets colder, wetter and generally a bit more miserable, leaving the house can become more difficult.. This increases their risk of feeling isolated from friends and loved ones. 

Small acts of companionship make all the difference – from a cup or tea and a chat, to picking up shopping can lift a person’s mood and help to protect them from loneliness induced depression. 

Do you have any top tips for staying safe and enjoying Autumn? Head over to our Facebook page and let us know.

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