Cold weather precautions for the elderly & vulnerable

Winter is a challenge for most people but it can be particularly tricky for the elderly or infirm. So whether you’re vulnerable to the elements or you’re caring for someone who is, it’s worth looking at this list of ten tips for staying well during the colder months. It covers everything from winter health care to getting from A to B in one piece.

Keep an eye on the weather

Be prepared for whatever winter has to throw at you by checking the daily forecast for any warnings. If you have internet access at home, keep an eye on the Met Office website for weather updates in your area. Or you can call their Weather Desk’s 24-hour advice line on 0370 900 0100 or 01392 885 680. If severe conditions are forecast, which could cause disruption and travel problems, it’s best to stay indoors if you can.

Get a free flu jab

The flu is a nasty business at the best of times but it can be especially dangerous for those who are older, or whose health may already be at risk. So if you’re 65 or over, live in a residential or nursing home, or are the main carer for an elderly or vulnerable person, contact your GP or local pharmacy to arrange your free flu jab.

Seek advice at the first sign of a cold

If you suspect you’re getting ill, even if it’s just a simple case of the sniffles, don’t put off visiting your pharmacist or doctor. Nipping any minor winter ailments in the bud will stop them from becoming dangerous and speed up your recovery time. And if you start to feel unwell out of hours, visit Stay Well or call 111 for non-emergency winter health advice from the NHS.

Top up your vitamin D

It may be that many of us don’t get enough Vitamin D through sunshine and diet alone, and this can become increasingly troublesome as we age. So current advice suggests that if you’re over 65 you should take a supplement (no more than 25mcg) per day, to help keep bones and muscles strong.

Keep your home toasty

If you’re at risk from cold temperatures you should aim to heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F) during the winter. You may prefer to have your living room that little bit warmer, and you might even want to keep your bedroom heated overnight if it’s very cold. There are grants and schemes available which could help with your heating bills, so check whether you’re eligible for the Affordable Warmth Grant (0300 123 1234), Warm Home Discount (Open Autumn 2018) and/or the Winter Fuel Payment scheme (03459 151515).

Be careful with electric heaters

Safety is hugely important when it comes to keeping warm and many people take risks during the cold months. So if you’re using electrical heaters, be sure to take the following precautions:

  • Switch off your heater/s before leaving them unattended
  • Never leave a heater on whilst sleeping
  • Keep them at least a metre from combustible materials (curtains, soft furnishings etc.) and don’t cover them
  • Never risk buying second-hand halogen heaters and don’t use any which shows signs of damage
  • Don’t power heaters from extension cables. They could overload and become a fire risk.

Wrap up warm

Whether you’re staying home or heading out, be sure to dress warmly. Thin layers made from cotton, fleece or wool fibres are great at helping to conserve body heat. And a hat, scarf, and gloves are a must during winter! Wrapping a scarf loosely around your neck and mouth when it’s cold can help to protect your lungs from the chill.

Wear a good pair of grippy shoes

Slips and falls during wintry weather are a major cause of injury to those at risk. So invest in a good pair of well-insulated grippy boots and always take your shoes off when you get home. The residual cold trapped in the material will only give you chilly feet if you keep them on, so switch to a warm pair of slippers instead.

Shut the cold out

Keep draughts at bay by closing doors and windows and fitting draught excluders. If you spend most of your time in one or two rooms you can adjust your radiators to concentrate warmth in these areas. Then close off any rooms which aren’t in use, to heat your home efficiently and cost-effectively. We have more advice on how to get your home winter ready here.

Eat well

It’s important to maintain a good diet during the winter months and this means having regular, healthy and hot meals throughout the day. Try to vary foods so that you’re getting enough fruit and vegetables to keep your vitamin intake at the right level. And if you can’t have three hot meals a day, aim for one. Stay well hydrated and keep a good stock of tinned and frozen foods, just in case you can’t get out of the house for a few days.

Have someone check in

It’s a good idea to have a family member or neighbour pop by during bad weather, in case you’ve got snow piled up outside or you can’t make it out to buy food. Keep the phone number of a trusted friend or relative to hand, and if you have a mobile phone, always take it with you when you leave the house. For those of you who have elderly or vulnerable neighbours or relatives, consider popping by more often during the colder months.

Hopefully, you now feel prepared for whatever winter brings. But if you’d like to know more about staying well when it’s icy outside, the gov.uk website has a comprehensive guide to all things to do with winter warmth. For complete peace of mind also have a Gas Safe engineer check your heating and gas appliances before the cold weather arrives. And give your utility provider/s a call to see if you can be added to their Priority Services Register – a facility for those most at risk. As always, we’re on hand if you have any concerns relating to your boiler or heating system.