How to stay well this winter
As the temperature drops, so too come the warnings of excess winter deaths. New figures released by the Office of National Statistics in November 2017 dramatically highlight the rise in excess winter deaths of people over the age of 65 in 2016-2017.
Age UK reports that there were over 31,000 excess winter deaths in the last year caused by an increase in health conditions and illnesses directly related to the cold weather, such as heart attack, stroke and respiratory disease. The latter accounts for a third of all excess winter deaths, as the colder weather can make it more difficult to breathe, as well as keep the chest warm.
Age UK’s Charity Director says: “This dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was "job done" when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter. Remember that every one of these deaths was, by definition, preventable.”
It is important that we are prepared for the winter ourselves, but also that we help ensure that elderly family members, friends and neighbours are also organised and ready for the cold snap.
The government’s Cold weather plan for England (see here for the easy read version, which just highlights the facts) has some good advice as a starting point, as well as explaining why the cold weather can be so harmful and cause excess deaths.
It’s not just the weather itself that causes problems, but practical concerns too, for example being able to afford heating, having badly insulated houses and not being dressed correctly to stay warm. The cold weather also creates conditions for the flu and other viruses to spread, and then there are the hazards such as ice, which can cause trips and falls.
The more the temperatures drop, the more problems that elderly people, in particular, will face. It is best to be prepared in advance to ensure that when the really cold weather comes in, you have everything in place.
The first thing to do is make sure that your home is warm. Many energy providers will now offer a free efficiency checkup for your home, which could identify potential problems, such as draughts, faulty windows, wasted energy flowing out of rooms and so on. It’s also worth getting a boiler maintenance so that it is working at its best and heating the home for as little as possible. Having good curtains can make a bit difference, as can draught excluders.
Next, find out if you are entitled to any winter benefits or payments to help with heating costs, such as the Winter Fuel Payment. Get this sorted in advance of actually needing it, so you can plan your finances accordingly. Also see if you can get a free flu jab (those in particular risk categories usually can) so that you can ward off some of the worst infections, although the flu viruses around at the moment appear to be less affected by the vaccination.
Think about what you wear as well; lots of thinner layers are better than one thick layer. Keep one room as warm as possible, so that you can use that even if the rest of the house is cold. When there is ice on the ground, make sure that it is safe to leave the house, by gritting the path, or asking someone to do it. Wear sensible shoes and don’t be afraid to ask for help to get shopping if it is too risky. Drink warm drinks to keep your body temperature up, and eat a good healthy diet.
If you are not a vulnerable person, then don’t forget to check on elderly or disabled neighbours and relatives, who may need more help to cope with the conditions.