Preparing for winter

Older women keeping warm

There’s no doubt that the cold winter weather can be a worry for those in later life. But with a little preparation, and by following some simple suggestions, it’s possible to stay healthy, safe and as comfortable as possible this winter.

Preparing for winter

Here’s a list of things you can do to help ward off the winter chills:

  • Have your heating system serviced and chimney swept.
  • Make sure you claim all the financial support you can to help with heating bills
  • If you have wood-burning, coal or gas heaters – make sure you have adequate ventilation
  • Check your water stopcock is working properly
  • Have your electric blanket serviced – this should be done at least every three years
  • Make sure your smoke alarm is working
  • Be sure you have some warm shoes or boots with non-slip soles
  • Keep a mixture of salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather
  • Keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies in the house.  Your pharmacist can make suggestions and can also advise on how to manage minor illnesses
  • Follow up your GP’s invitation to have a flu jab
  • Order repeat prescriptions in plenty of time, particularly if bad weather is forecast
  • Keep basic food items in the cupboard or freezer in case it’s too cold to go shopping.

Staying healthy

Cold weather means the beginning of the flu season and can cause particular difficulties if you have breathing and circulation problems. To help you stay well, it’s important to keep warm at home and outdoors, follow as healthy a lifestyle as you can and have a flu jab.  

Keep moving

Keeping active generates heat and helps to keep you warm.  It’s good for general fitness and wellbeing too. So when you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour.  Get up and walk around, make yourself a warm drink, and spread any chores throughout the day. Chair-based exercises and simply moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes are helpful if walking is difficult.   

Eat well

Hot meals and drinks help keep you warm, so eat at least one hot meal and have hot drinks during the day. Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables each day so that you’re getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Remember that frozen vegetables are as good as fresh.  

Have a seasonal flu jab

If you’re over 65 be sure to have a seasonal flu jab. Seasonal flu viruses are always changing, so you need to have a jab every year, using the latest vaccine.  

Keep your spirits up

It’s not unusual to feel a bit down in winter – particularly when the days are short and it gets dark by 4pm. Try to keep to your usual routines and, if you can’t visit friends, make sure you phone them regularly for a chat. It helps to do something you enjoy every day. If you feel down for several weeks and it’s stopping you going out, making you feel listless and lacking in energy, it’s very important to share these feelings with someone, perhaps a friend or your GP.

Keep warm indoors and out

Several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air.  If you are sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Use a hot-water bottle or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use the two together.  Check whether your electric blanket can be kept on all night or whether it is only designed to warm the bed before you get in and make sure you get it checked every three years.   

Keeping your home warm

Most of us spend a lot of time indoors in winter, so it’s important that you are comfortable and safe.  Get to know how the timer and thermostat on your heating system work. If it’s very cold, set the timer to switch the heating on earlier rather than turning the thermostat up to warm your house quickly.  Close the curtains and fit thermal linings if you can.   

Heating your home

Heating your home is easier and cheaper if it is well insulated and your central heating works properly. Have your heating system serviced each year and check that it’s working before the cold weather starts. Gas heating must be serviced by a Gas Safety Registered engineer. Draught-proof doors and windows, insulate the loft and lag the hot-water tank and pipes. The Energy Saving Trust can advise you whether or not you may be able to get financial help to do this – call 0800 512 012. Grants from the government and energy suppliers to help heat and insulate your home may be available if you are over 60.

Contact your energy supplier if you are having trouble paying your bills. Companies should not disconnect all-pensioner households during winter months. Also ask about their Priority Service Register for older and disabled people, and if you are eligible for free energy efficiency and insulation. People over Pension Credit age are entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment to help with heating costs. If you have not been eligible before, contact the Winter Fuel Payment Helpline 0845 9 15 15 15 for more information.

If you receive Pension Credit or certain other benefits, you are automatically paid an extra cold weather payment when the temperature is at freezing or below for seven days in a row. To find out if you are receiving the benefits you are entitled to, call Age NI on freephone 0808 808 7575 from 8.00am to 7.00pm. 

Our Advice and Advocacy service offers free, confidential and impartial advice from trained advisors to older people, their relatives, friends and carers.

Age NI Advice Line:
0808 808 7575

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