Winter can be a tough time of year for many of us but it can be particularly harsh for older people. It is important for older people and their families or carers to be aware of these risks and what can be done to protect elderly health in winter. There are many steps you can take to protect yourself or to look after your older friend or relative.
Who is at Risk in Winter?
Some people are more likely to develop health problems in winter or to experience serious complications when they do get ill. Young children, people with pre-existing health conditions, and the elderly are all at higher risk in winter. The risks are particularly high when the temperature drops below freezing, but there can be negative health effects for vulnerable groups throughout the winter.
Winter can affect elderly health in many different ways:
- Infections such as colds and the flu spread more easily in winter and older people are more vulnerable to these illnesses
- Muddy or icy surfaces can be hazardous, especially for elderly people who are unsteady on their feet or more likely to suffer injuries if they fall
- Breathing in cold air can trigger serious health conditions such as heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable people
- Getting too cold outdoors or in a poorly heated home can put older people at risk of hypothermia as they are more vulnerable to this condition than other groups of people
- Bad weather and shorter days can make it harder for people to get out of the house, which can leave older people feeling isolated in winter
Tips for Protecting Elderly Health in Winter
If you are an older person or you’re caring for someone who is at risk then there are some steps you can take to prevent problems.
- Keep the Home Warm:
Rooms should be kept at about 18 degrees Celsius for older people who aren’t physically active or who have health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. The temperature can be a bit lower if they are moving around a lot. Using curtains and draught blockers can help to maintain the right temperature.
- Wrap Up Warm Outdoors:
Older people should take extra care when going outside in cold weather. It is best to stay in if possible on the coldest days and to wear plenty of layers when heading out. Wrapping a scarf loosely across the face can be particularly effective as it warms up the air before we breathe it in.
- Avoid Infections:
Infections can be much more serious for older people so it is important to reduce the risk of catching them as much as possible. Getting the seasonal flu jab is essential but you should also try to avoid spending time with people who are ill. Friends and family members should wait until they’re feeling better before visiting. Good hygiene such as washing hands before preparing or eating food can also prevent germs from spreading. Although you can take steps to reduce the risks, it isn’t possible to avoid them completely so it’s also sensible to stock up on cold remedies and to be ready to contact your doctor if you do fall ill.
- Eat Well:
Eating a balanced diet is essential for elderly health. Having at least one warm, filling meal every day in winter can also help older people to feel more comfortable during the colder months. A tasty meal can also help you to feel brighter if you’re experiencing any winter blues. It can also help you to be a bit more active if you’re able to prepare it yourself. Even a small amount of exercise such as moving around to make food can warm you up and improve your health.
- Get Help from Friends and Family:
When winter weather makes it harder to get out it is even more important for friends, family and neighbours to look out for elderly people. Practical steps you can take to help include delivering groceries, offering lifts when it is too cold to walk, and managing ice on the driveway. It can also be important to call or visit more often to check that all is well and to ensure that older people aren’t kept isolated by the winter weather.