Cold weather still claims lives of 21,700 older people
Published on 29 November 2012 02:00 PM
Excess winter deaths fall overall, but the cold weather still claims lives of 21,700 older people. Charity also warns of steep hike in deaths among over 85s
New figures released by the ONS today shows that overall 24,000 people died last winter from cold-related illness such as hypothermia and strokes - an 8% drop on the previous year. The vast majority of these deaths were among older people, with 21,700 in the over 65 age group - a 3% drop on the previous year.
However worryingly there was an increase of 1% in the 75-84 age bracket (up from 19,400 to 19,500), and a much steeper 7% increase in the number of deaths among the over 85s (up from 12,040 to 12,900).
In response to the figures, Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General at Age UK, said: 'It is good news that the number of excess winter deaths fell last year, but it remains a national tragedy that 21,700 older people's lives(1) were claimed by cold weather and many millions more endured cold-related illness.
'Every single excess winter death is preventable and represents our failure to meet the challenge of plummeting temperatures in Britain. Even in very cold countries such as Finland, excess winter deaths are much lower because they take staying warm seriously and prepare for cold weather.(2)
'The fluctuations in excess winter deaths in recent years - mainly due to temperature changes - highlight how in 21st century Britain, older people's lives are still at the mercy of the weather. Even in relatively mild winters, there are around 8,000 extra deaths for every one degree drop in average temperature.(3) Over the past decade, there have been, on average, around 25,000 excess winter deaths every year among the over 65s.(4)
'Last winter was relatively mild, leading to an eight per cent reduction in excess deaths.(5) But this fall does not prove progress in tackling the problem of excess winter deaths, as data shows that colder temperatures in future years could result in another sharp hike in deaths.
'Cold homes - caused by a number of factors including high energy costs and poor insulation - not only have a devastating impact on older people's health, but are a major cause of excess winter deaths.(6) Those living in the coldest homes are three times more likely to die a preventable death than those living in warmer ones.(7) In addition to the incalculable human cost, Age UK estimates cold homes to cost the NHS around £1.36 billion to treat the casualties of cold each year.(8)
'Age UK is campaigning to put an end to thousands of older people dying preventably each winter.(9) We are calling on all local authorities to recognise the issue as a major health priority and make sure they are doing everything within their power to keep older people warm. But the only way to make a sustained and long term impact on excess winter deaths is by investing in making Britain's homes more energy efficient. The government must also invest in a major energy efficiency programme to help insulate older people against the cold weather and the high cost of energy.'
What's your advice to older people?
The campaign recommends the following actions which older people can take to protect their health in cold weather:
1. It's harder to judge temperatures as you get older. Use a thermometer to detect changes and act quickly. Keep your living room at 70°F (21°c) if possible.
2. Exposure to the cold during the night puts you at greater risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Keep your bedroom at 65°F (18°c).
3. It's a common misconception that sleeping with the window open all year round is healthy. Keeping windows open on a winter night puts you at greater risk of a heart attack or a stroke. Keep your bedroom windows closed at night.
4. Protect your fingers, mouth and head - these parts of your body are more sensitive to changes in temperature. Breathing in cold air can increase your chances of becoming seriously ill. Wrap up well when you go outside.
5. Stay ‘flu-free'. A bout of winter flu can be dangerous as well as unpleasant. Visit your GP for a flu jab - free to over 65s - keep warm and eat well and this can help to ward off infection.
Notes to editors
Media contact: Helen Spinney/ Vicky Smith
Telephone: 0203 033 1713/ 1444
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1) Excess Winter Mortality in England and Wales, 2011/12 (Provisional) and 2010/11 (Final), ONS, November 2012
2) Eurowinter Group (1997). Lancet, 349, 1341-1346
3) Curwen M, 1997 - Excess winter mortality in England and Wales with special reference to the effects of temperature and influenza
4) The 10 year average for excess winter deaths England and Wales (65+) is 24,600 from 2000/01 to 2010/11 - this would explain the 25,000 figure quoted.
5) ONS Statistics
6) Marmot Review Team (2011) The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty, Friends of the Earth and the Marmot Review Team
7) Marmot Review Team (2011), The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty.
8) Age UK's calculation based on the method described in South East Regional Public Health Group Factsheet (2009) Health and Winter Warmth. This made use of a calculator produced by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health to estimate the total cost to the NHS in England arising from cold homes. Age UK updated their figure (£859 million) using 2011 household numbers estimates for England (Office for National Statistics) and the GDP deflator (from HM Treasury's website) to inflate the estimates to 2011/12 prices.
9) Age UK and its local and national partners are working to keep older people warm and well. We're providing social activities and contact for older people, as well as tips on combating the cold at home and outdoors. We're keeping people warm and safe at home, giving out hot nutritious meals and offering information and advice 365 days a year. We're also calling on the Government to boost the energy efficiency of older people's homes. Act now to Spread the Warmth and help hundreds of thousands of older people.
Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free on 0800 169 65 65, where they can also order a free copy of ‘Winter wrapped up' with a free thermometer. Alternatively they can visit www.spreadthewarmth.org.uk to download the guide, get more information about the Spread the Warmth campaign and find out where their local Age UK office or shop is. There are lots of ways to help Age UK Spread the Warmth this winter. People can make a donation simply by calling 0800 169 87 87 or visiting www.spreadthewarmth.org.uk.
For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.
Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life.
We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to well over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle. We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI (together the Age UK Family), our local Age UK partners in England and local Age Concerns. We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.
Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).