Wintertime can bring a host of health risks and complications for the elderly. As we age, our immune systems weaken and we are less able to fight off viruses. From around the age of 55, we tend to lose around 1% of our muscle mass year on year, and it’s our muscle that keeps us warm.
Typically, lower temperatures can make health conditions harder to manage and can affect our hearts and circulation:
- Due to a reduced ability to control and regulate body temperature
- Those with conditions of chronic illness and multiple medications are more vulnerable to the cold
- Those with poor nutrition are more vulnerable to the cold
- The elderly are more likely to remain inactive at home
Fortunately, there are a number of precautions that can be made to help reduce these risks and ensure loved ones are safe and cared for this winter.
1. Stay Warm at Home
Elderly people should aim to maintain a steady temperature throughout the day. Where possible, it is recommended keeping the heating on at approximately 18 degree celsius. Other ways to stay warm at home include closing the curtains to help keep heat in, block out draughts with excluders and installing thermostatic radiator valves. When sitting down, wrap up with a shawl or blanket and raise feet on a footstool if possible. If it’s particularly cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat. A hot water bottle can be used not only have in your lap but also to pre-heat a chair or the bed ahead of using it.
2. Light Physical Activity
Regular physical movement every 60 minutes, even a little physical activity, can help maintain strength and mobility. Examples of light activity include getting up to make a cup of tea, moving around your home, cleaning and dusting, vacuuming, making the bed, or taking a short walk around the house.
You can also complete basic chair-based exercise routines as shown in this video provided by the NHS which provides a 10 minute routine. At Struan Lodge Care Home, we often encourage our residents to underake light exercise.
3. Eat Well, East Often & Stay Hydrated
The elderly are more prone to dehydration as they tend to eat and drink less compared to others. In general, people feel less thirsty during the winter and tend to not drink as much fluid as they do compared to warmer months, and therefore consume less water. Eating regularly and ensuring food is nutritious, coupled with fluid intake can help older people stay warm and help to keep the cold at bay. Good nutrition provides the body with energy; it may also help prevent some diseases, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
With winter comes more widespread viruses and illnesses, so it's especially important for older people to ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations. The flu vaccine is offered for free to those who are ages 65 and over. The NHS website also states, starting from mid-October, those aged 50 years old or over can have a free NHS flu vaccine. You can find out more about the flu jab on the NHS website. You are able to get the vaccination from a GP, pharmacy or at the hospital.
5. Medication Side Effects
Some medicines can affect body heat, these include medicines prescribed by a doctor as well as those purchased over-the-counter. We recommend you seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of the medicines you take include side effects that may affect body heat.
6. Reduce Germ Spreading
As well as being up to date with vaccinations, regularly washing your hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent germs spreading. We also encourgae regular use of antibacterial hand gel also.
7. Vitamin D Supplement
Everyone needs vitamin D for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Our bodies create it from sunlight as well as from a small number of foods. However, people over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of not getting enough vitamin D, especially during the winter months. Age UK states “it's recommended that over-65s take a supplement of vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day”. Speak to your pharmacist or GP about integrating this supplement into your daily routine.
8. Avoid Chilblains
NHS Inform describes Chilblains as red, itchy swellings that occur as a reaction to cold temperature and are typically found on areas such as the toes, fingers, heels, ears and nose. Sitting close to an open fire, a radiator or heater to warm up quickly can cause chilblains. If you do suffer with chilblains, it is recommended you dab the swellings with calamine or witch hazel to help reduce the itchy feeling. If they do not show signs of improvement after 2 weeks, then seek advice from a GP or pharmacist.
9. Stay Warm When Out
It is incredibly important you stay warm when out and about during the colder, winter months. When temperatures are low, make sure to keep your hands and face warm. When hands and face get cold, blood pressure can rise which could then lead to an increase the risk of a heart attack. As well as wearing gloves and a hat, cover your mouth with a scarf, even when outside for short periods.
Wearing several thin layers of clothing rather than one thick layer can be more effective at keeping warm as the layers trap warm air between them. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or thermal socks and add layers of clothing.
10. Be Careful of Icy or Wet Surfaces
Walking can be hugely beneficial during winter, but there are a few precautions to help stay safe and confident when outside in icy or wet surfaces. Non-slip soles on footwear can help keep you steady when it’s icy and using a stick that is the right height is a helpful way to make going out safer.
It is a good idea to check the local news and weather reports daily to be able to dress appropriately or avoid going out when the weather is too cold and/or dangerous.
Winter can be a difficult time for a lot of people; shorter, darker days combined with bad weather and reduced sunlight can make it much more difficult to get out and about. Keep spirits up by trying to keep to a usual daily routine as much as possible. When it becomes unsafe to visit friends or family, then try phoning or video calling them.
If you’re seeking additional support and advice, there are a number of places to reach out to, including:
- Age UK Advice: 0800 169 65 65 / www.ageuk.org.uk. Lines are open seven days a week from 8am to 7pm.
- GOV.UK / www.gov.uk. Government website of services and information that includes advice on taking care of yourself in winter.
- NHS Website / www.nhs.uk. Web-based information about NHS services, healthy living and health conditions.
Should you find yourself feeling unwell, are 65 or over, or in one of the other at-risk groups, it's important to get medical help as soon as possible:
Pharmacists can provide treatment advice for a range of minor illnesses and can tell you if you need to see a doctor. You can use NHS Inform to find your local pharmacy.
You may be able to speak to a GP online or over the phone, or go in for a face-to-face appointment if they think you need to. Get in touch with your GP to find out how they can support you.
Go to 111.nhs.uk online or call 111 if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.
Struan Lodge Care Home is here to support those who require help. Our wonderful team is on hand to provide expert advice and welcome you to get in touch. Our home provides access to an enriched quality of life where residents are able to live happy and healthy, free from the stresses of day-to-day life.