Care for the Elderly during Winter

Rebecca Tilby, Registered Manager at Katherine Harriet Ltd looks at Care for the Elderly during Winter.   

As the days get shorter, the frost creeps in, you might have begun to think about keeping the elderly safe this winter. Whether they’re your friends, family, or service users. We have put together our top elderly care tips for keeping safe over the coming months.

Winter isn’t everyone’s favourite season and there’s no doubt that cold weather can be a worry for those later in life. As we get older, our bodies respond differently to the cold, and this can the elderly more vulnerable. Keeping warm both inside and outside the home can help reduce the risk of serious health problems that are more common in the colder months, such as chest infections, heart attacks and strokes. 

Preparing for winter can start as early as October.

Here are some things you can do to make sure that the elderly stays safe and ward off the winter chills. 

Get your home winter ready:  

  • Get your heating system serviced every year to make sure it’s running safely and efficiently. Gas heating must be serviced by a qualified Gas safe-registered engineer. If you’re a tenant, your landlord should check your gas heating system and appliances at least once a year. 
  • Make sure you claim all the financial support you can to help with heating bills. Your local Age UK can advise you.

Prepare for freezing temperatures:

  • If water pipes freeze, they can burst, so you need to be able to turn off the water at the main stopcock. Make sure you know where your main stopcock is and check that it’s easy to turn. If it’s jammed, you may need to replace it. 
  • Keep extra food items in the cupboard or freezer in case it’s too cold to go shopping. You could do your food shopping online and get it delivered to your door.
  • Keep a mixture of salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather. Some councils provide free bags of the mix or try a local DIY store.
  • If you’re worried about walking your dog in icy weather, contact Katherine Harriet. They may be able to match you with a dog-walking volunteer in your area.

Plan for your health:

  • Make sure you have a yearly flu jab. It’s free if you’re aged 65 and over, or if you’re a carer or have certain long-term conditions. 
  • Order repeat prescriptions in plenty of time, particularly if bad weather is forecast. Ask your local pharmacy if it offers a prescription pick-up and delivery service.
  • Keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies in the house. Your pharmacist can make suggestions and advise you on how to manage minor illnesses.

Stay safe:

  • Make sure your smoke alarm is working. You can ask your local fire service for a free home fire safety check. You may be eligible to get free smoke alarms fitted. 
  • Install an audible carbon monoxide alarm in each room that has a gas or solid-fuel burning appliance. If you’re a private tenant, your landlord must install carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms for you.
  • Consider fitting a grab rail if you have steps at your front or back door.
  • Ask your family or friends if they could call or visit you more often if there’s an extended period of cold weather.
  • Keep a torch handy in case you lose power and keep your radio, mobile phone, laptop, or tablet fully charged.
  • If your area is liable to floods, sign up for free flood warnings from Flood line.

Staying safe and healthy:

If you’re exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or to extreme cold for only a short time, your blood pressure rises which means you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke. To help you stay well, it’s important to keep warm, follow as healthy a lifestyle as you can, and have a flu jab. 

Keep moving:

Staying active is not only essential for your general wellbeing and fitness – it also generates heat and helps to keep you warm. When you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour. Get up and walk around and spread out any chores throughout the day. If walking is difficult, you can do chair-based exercises while sitting or holding on to the back of a chair. Even moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes can help you keep warm. You can watch videos online that demonstrate chair-based exercises by visiting the NHS Choices website. 

Eat well:

Hot meals and drinks help to keep you warm, so eat at least one hot meal each day and have hot drinks during the day. Having a hot drink before going to bed and keeping one in a flask by your bedside are good ideas. Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so that you’re getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Frozen vegetables are as good as fresh. It’s important to eat enough, especially in winter. Not eating enough and becoming underweight is bad for your health as it makes it more difficult to keep warm and fight infections. If you’re worried about a poor appetite or losing weight, speak to your GP. 

Keep warm:

Even when temperatures don’t seem extreme, cold weather can make you more vulnerable to some illnesses, so it’s vital that you stay warm during the cold winter months. 

Have a seasonal flu jab:

If you’re aged 65 and over, the Government recommends that you have a flu jab. Flu viruses are always changing, so you need a jab every year, using the latest vaccine. Flu isn’t only unpleasant, it can also develop into pneumonia, which can be serious. The flu jab is free to people aged 65 and over and also to carers and people under 65 who have conditions that make them susceptible to complications if they have flu. Ask your GP or pharmacist if you think you’re eligible. It takes up to 10 days for the vaccine to take effect, so it’s best to have it as early as possible – most surgeries and pharmacists start to offer it in September or October. Your vaccinated arm may be sore, or you may have a slight temperature or aching muscles for a few days, but other side effects are rare. 

Check you’ve had a ‘pneumo’ jab:

The ‘pneumo’ (or pneumococcal) jab is a one-off vaccination that helps protect you against pneumonia, meningitis, and septicaemia (a type of blood poisoning). Ask your GP about it if you’re aged 65 and over and haven’t had one. 

Have good hand hygiene: 

Good hand hygiene is a simple way to prevent the spread of colds and flu. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and clean surfaces such as your telephone, door handles and keyboard to get rid of germs. Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. 

Consider taking a vitamin D supplement:

Our bodies create vitamin D from sunlight when we’re outdoors. We need it for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. During the winter months in the UK the sun isn’t strong enough for our bodies to make vitamin D, and it’s difficult to get the amount we need from food alone. You might want to speak to your GP to discuss taking a supplement to boost your levels in winter. 

Give up Smoking:

Quitting smoking has a positive impact on your overall health. Smoking lowers your immune system and can cause serious health conditions. After you stop smoking, you’ll quickly notice that your breathing is easier and that doing any exercise is more comfortable. Ask at your GP practice about NHS services to help you give up. If you live in England, call the free NHS Smokefree Helpline. 

Protect yourself against chilblains:

Chilblains are itchy, red swellings that occur when your skin gets cold and you try to warm up too quickly, often by sitting close to an open fire, a radiator or heater. Dab the swellings with calamine or witch hazel to reduce itching, but don’t scratch them as this could cause an infection. Speak to your pharmacist for advice on treating chilblains and see your GP if you get chilblains regularly or have diabetes. To help prevent chilblains, always keep your whole body warm. Wear trousers, socks or thick tights and a scarf, hat and gloves whenever you go out in the cold. 

Get a personal alarm:

If you fall or you’re unwell, a personal alarm connects you to a 24-hour call centre. You press a button on a pendant you wear around your neck or as a wrist band and talk to someone who will contact a chosen person to help you – usually a neighbour, friend or relative – or the emergency services. Many councils run personal alarm schemes; contact your local council to find out more or search 

Take care when driving:

If you absolutely must drive in bad weather, make sure you allow extra time for your journey. Tell someone your destination and when you expect to arrive there. Always charge your mobile phone fully before you set off and make sure you take warm clothes, boots, food, water, a torch, and a spade in case you need them. 

Keep your spirits up:

It’s not unusual to feel down in winter – particularly when the days are short and it can get dark by 3.30pm. Try to keep to your usual routine and if you can’t visit friends or family, make sure you phone or Skype them regularly for a chat. If you’re feeling lonely contact your local Age UK to see if they offer friendship services. If there are no local services and you’re interested in a weekly telephone friendship call, contact the national Call in Time Service at Age UK on 0800 434 6105 to find out more. 

It helps to do something you enjoy every day. If you can and it’s not too cold, go for a short walk in the middle of the day, or at least go outside while there is daylight. There may be local classes or social groups you can attend. Check your local community centre or library noticeboard or contact your local Age UK to find out what opportunities there are in your area. 

If you feel down for several weeks and it’s stopping you going out or making you feel lethargic and lacking in energy, it’s very important to share these feelings with someone, perhaps a friend or your GP. 

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