Hillingdon out-of-hours
Hillingdon out-of-hours

Cold weather health advice

January 12 2017

With weather forecasters predicting an icy blast, now is the time for us all to think about how cold weather can seriously affect the health of older people.

Every winter approximately 200 people die needlessly every day – mainly because of the effects of low temperatures and ice weather.

Did you know that the reason older people are more likely to die in winter is because as we age, our  bodies react differently to the cold, leading to a greater chance of having a heart attack, stroke, breathing difficulties or pneumonia.

Blood pressure generally is higher in the winter and lower in the summer because low temperatures cause blood vessels to narrow. Besides cold temperatures, high winds, snow and rain also reduce body heat.

Wind is especially dangerous, because it removes the layer of heated air from around the body, and unfortunately these weather changes tend to affect older people more seriously. Not only is it harder for them to regain and maintain heat, but the restricting of the blood vessels can exacerbate conditions such as infections and ulcers in the extremities of limbs.

In very cold weather there’s also the risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia is caused by getting too cold as the body loses more heat than it can generate and the body temperature drops below 35°. Chronic hypothermia happens when heat is lost slowly over time and this is the form that tends to affect older people. Most at risk are those living with dementia who may not be able to recognise the symptoms of hypothermia or recognise when they’re cold.

So, if you have older friends, relatives and neighbours, why not see if there is anything you can do to help keep them safe and well as the cold weather takes a hold?

Here’s a few tips that you could talk to them about:

  • Try to keep rooms at the right temperature – at least 18°C for a bedroom and 21°C for a living room. Ensure boilers have been serviced to reduce the chance of them breaking down
  • Warm beds with a hot water bottle or electric blanket before you get in them
  • Wearing several thin layers of clothing as these trap air and are better than one thick layer for keeping warm
  • Try to eat well, have at least one hot meal every day and regular hot drinks
  • Have a varied diet to include necessary nutrients and keeping a well-stocked larder or freezer in case bad weather makes it difficult to get to the shops
  • If possible, and safe, try to move around indoors - it’s all too easy to get cold just sitting in one position. 

Age UK and many local councils also run schemes to try and help older people who live in cold homes. These might include offering clothes, heaters and electric blankets, providing information and advice on fuel bills, and carrying out energy saving jobs like fitting draft excluders and radiator foils. You can read more advice by visiting the Age UK website.

Image courtesy of Maxim Weise at freedigitalphotos.net