Winter is a beautiful season…being able to see sunrises, eating warm chunky vegetable soups, wrapping up warm for coastal walks, the leaves on the trees changing colour, falling and hearing them crunch under our feet. But it can also be a worrying time, especially in our later years. For older people winter time is when we are more vulnerable to becoming ill. Low temperatures increase the risk of flu and other respiratory problems. Even during a less severe winter older people are more vulnerable to heart attacks, a stroke or even hyperthermia. And sadly, there are tens of thousands of deaths caused by cold winter temperatures every year. Preparing ourselves for winter can help us stay safe, healthy and well during the winter and enable us to enjoy this beautiful season with our family and friends.
Keep you and your home warm
Your main living room should be around 70°F (21°C) and the rest of your house heated to at least 64°F (18°C). Regularly check your thermostat or use a room thermometer to monitor the temperature. Remember though, if you feel cold, turn the heat up regardless of what the thermometer says; you tend to be colder if you are still for long periods of time, whereas you will be warmer if you are more active in your home.
To help keep the heat in your house close your curtains at dusk. If you can, fit thermal linings to your curtains, especially in your living room and bedroom; or maybe you could ask a family member or friend to purchase or fit them for you.
Keep your bedroom window closed at night when the weather is cold. Although it is good to circulate air, by having the window open will lose any warmth generated during the day. Also the coldest time of day is just before dawn, usually when most of us are still in bed and breathing in cold air raises the risk of chest infections.
When staying indoors, if you’re sitting down for any length of time, use a blanket to provide additional warmth. Also, if you are able to, keep your feet up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
Staying active generates heat and helps keep you warm. When you are indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour. Regularly get up and walk around, make yourself a warm drink or something hot to eat and spread any chores throughout the day.
Staying warm in bed
It may seem obvious, but when it is cold wear warm clothes in bed. Many high street shops now sell affordable warm, fleecy nightwear in all sizes. If it’s an exceptionally cold spell wear bed socks and even a hat in bed. Don’t worry about what you look like…a lot of heat is lost through your head, so that hat will help provide vital warmth!
Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use a hot-water bottle and electric blanket together, as this can be dangerous. Always check your hot-water bottle is safe to use, looking for any signs of perishable rubber. Also never put boiling water in the bottle or over fill it. Don’t use an electric blanket if you have continence difficulties. And remember, electric blankets need to be checked by an expert every three years. Hampshire Fire Service has essential information on testing, buying, using and storing your electric blanket.
Keeping warm when outside
On really cold days try to avoid going outside. However, we don’t always want to be stuck indoors on our own. So if you need to go out, wrap up warm with plenty of layers, rather than one thick layer, as it’s the layers that help trap warm air. Ditch the cotton t-shirts and blouses and opt for clothes made from wool or fleecy synthetic fibres, such as polyester. Thermal underwear, warm tights and socks are a good place to start. When going out make sure you keep your hands and face warm. As well as wearing gloves and a hat, wrap a scarf around your face, as this helps to warm the air you breathe.
Make sure you have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day. Include a good range of foods in your diet, including fruit, vegetables, meat and pasta. Eating enough and maintaining a healthy body weight will help keep you warm and fight infections.
If you are unable to make meals and drinks yourself and you have a flask, ask your carer to make a hot drink or soup to keep you going until their next visit; remember though, to prevent burns and scalds don’t put boiling fluids in a flask. A hot drink before you go to bed will help you keep warm during the night and aid sleeping.
Be prepared for a cold spell by always keeping basic food items in the cupboard or freezer, in case it’s too cold to go shopping. You could also do your food shopping online, or get a family member or friend to help you, and get it delivered to your door.
Get a flu jab
Flu is a nasty illness and can lead to live threatening illnesses, such as phenomena. If you are over 65 or have a long term health condition you can get a free flu jab from your GP to protect against seasonal flu. Flu viruses are always changing, so it is important you have a jab every year, using the latest vaccine.
Get financial support
Many older people worry about the cost of keeping their home warm. But there are lots of grants for insulating your home, benefits to help with heating costs and sources of advice available to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating and help with your heating bills.
If you are born after 6th May 1953 you should be entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment to help with heating costs. You should get this payment automatically, but if you don’t you will need to contact the Winter Fuel Payment helpline on 03459 151515.
If you are in receipt of certain benefits and the temperature is 0°C (32°F) or below for seven days in a row, you will automatically receive a Cold Weather Payment.
To find out what financial support is available to help keep your home warm you can contact your local Age UK (national number 0800 169 6565) or Citizens Advice (national number 03444 111 444, Gosport 02392 520112, Fareham 0844 4772232).
AGE UK is the UK’s largest charity helping everyone make the most of later life. They have a fantastic guide for keeping warm and well this winter.
Check local news and weather forecasts for advice of when the cold snaps are predicted. The Met Office provides a wide range of weather forecasts and warnings to help you prepare your day-to-day activities. They also issue severe weather warnings, including snow and ice. You can call their Customer Centre on 0870 900 0100 (Open 24hrs a day, 7 days a week) or visit their website on www.metoffice.gov.uk for up-to-date forecasts.