Staying safe and well at winter

The perishing cold weather that winter brings with it can have health implications for us all, but particularly for vulnerable people such as the elderly.

It is important to keep yourself and others safe and warm throughout the winter as the drop in temperatures can cause a number of health problems that could be prevented with a little care and attention.

Many older people, especially those who have become widowed or live alone, can often feel like a burden and don’t like to complain to their children or loved ones.

Therefore, it is important to keep regularly updated with their health and living conditions, checking they have enough food and medication when they can’t get out in the winter.

Make sure they are having one hot meal a day and plenty of warm drinks. If you have elderly neighbours, offer them a warm meal from any left-over portions you may have. Pop round and stick the kettle on. The emotional suffering of winter isolation is hard to deal with, so a friendly face and a cup of tea can go a long way to those living alone.

Although many people relate hypothermia to falling in cold lakes or climbing up treacherous mountains, you can develop the life threatening condition from something as simple as a cold house. When exposed to long periods of cold temperatures, your body temperature can drop from the normal rate of 37 degrees. If it falls below 35 degrees, it becomes a medical emergency and you should call 999 straight away.

Know the signs of hypothermia and how to raise body temperature while waiting for medical help. Shivering, tiredness and fast breathing are major signs, along with pale or cold skin. If the body temperature keeps falling, the person can become delirious and struggle to breathe. Move them to a warm place and wrap in layers of blankets, towels and coats to insulate the body and bring the temperature up.

Make sure their homes are kept warm, above 18 degrees, and seek help with winter fuel benefits if necessary. Anyone born before 5th January 1953 can be eligible for between £100 and £300 with help for fuel costs, dependent on their circumstances.

Wearing several, thin layers instead of one big jumper can help regulate body temperature and keep you insulated. Keeping a thick blanket nearby can also be handy as night time arrives.

As many asthma sufferers will know, the cold air can often trigger tightness in the chest or shortness of breath. Similarly, COPD symptoms can also be heightened in the colder weather. The dry and irritating nature of cold air can leave people wheezy and struggling for air. If they do go outside, make sure they wear a scarf over their mouths so warm air is inhaled rather than cold.  And always keep inhalers at hand in the winter.

Aside from the physical risk of winter, such as falls on ice or snow, winter time is also the main culprit of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. In the cold weather, blood vessels constrict to keep body heat in. This means that the heart is working harder to keep blood flowing to your vital organs and so blood pressure rises, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Keep the medicine cabinet well stocked and always make sure elderly relatives have at least seven days of prescription medication at home. At Good Measure, we offer a delivery service to help those vulnerable patients who cannot make the journey to pick up their prescriptions.