Preparing for winter
Cold weather can be a worry in later life. As we get older, our bodies respond differently to the cold which can leave us more susceptible to serious health problems. But with a little preparation, and by following some simple suggestions, you can stay healthy, safe and comfortable this winter.
How can I stay healthy in winter?
Cold temperatures can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of flu and other lung-related problems. Our blood pressure takes longer to return to normal, and this can put you at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s so important to look after yourself in the winter.
Even if you don’t feel like it, staying active will not only keep you fit and healthy, it will also generate heat to keep you warm.
- If it’s not too cold, take a short walk in the middle of the day
- Look for ways to keep active - get up and walk around, make yourself a warm drink and spread any chores throughout the day.
- Chair-based exercises are helpful if walking is difficult, along with moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes.
Hot meals and drinks help to keep you warm, so eat at least one hot meal each day and have hot drinks throughout the day. Having a hot drink before bed and keeping one in a flask by your bedside are good ideas too.
Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables each day so you’re getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Remember that frozen vegetables are as good as fresh.
Keep basic food items in the cupboard or freezer in case it’s too cold to go shopping. You could also do your food shopping online and get it delivered to your house.
It’s important to eat enough, especially in winter. If you’re worried about a poor appetite, or are losing weight, speak to your GP.
Have a yearly flu jab
The flu is not only unpleasant, it can also develop into something more serious, such as pneumonia. If you’re over 65, or if you have certain health conditions the Government recommends that you get the flu jab every year. Flu viruses are constantly changing so vaccines are updated each year.
You can get a free flu jab from your GP and some pharmacies if:
- you’re 65 or over
- you receive Carer’s Allowance, or you are the carer of a person whose welfare will be affected if you become unwell
- you have a long-term health condition – such as diabetes, a heart condition, asthma or lung disease, a kidney or liver problem, Parkinson’s, or if you have had a stroke
- you are living in a long-stay residential care home
Check if you’ve had the ‘pneumo’ jab
The ‘pneumo’ (or pneumococcal) jab is a one-off jab that helps protect you against pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia (a type of blood poisoning). If you’re over 65 and haven’t had one, ask your GP.
Keep your hands clean
Good hand hygiene is a simple way to avoid getting colds or flu and stop it spreading to other people.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, or use alcohol-based gel or wipes.
- Make sure to clean surfaces you are in contact with regularly, like your telephone, door handles and keyboard as germs can live on them.
Protect yourself from chilblains
Chilblains are itchy red swellings that occur when your skin gets cold and you try to warm up too quickly, often by sitting close to a radiator or other heating.
- If you experience these, dab the swellings with calamine or witch hazel to reduce itching, but don’t scratch them as this could cause an infection.
- To help prevent chilblains, keep your whole body warm at all times. Wear trousers, socks or thick tights and a scarf, hat and gloves whenever you go out in the cold.
- Speak to your pharmacist for advice on treating chilblains. If you get them regularly or if you have diabetes, speak to your GP.
Organise your medications
- It’s important that you don’t run out of your medications. Make sure you order prescriptions ahead of time, just in case there is bad weather or you’re too unwell to go to the pharmacy. Also ask your pharmacy if they can deliver to you, if they don’t usually do this.
- It’s also a good idea to keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies at home, just in case you become unwell.
Keep your spirits up
It’s not unusual to feel down in winter – particularly when the days are short and it can get dark by 3.30pm. It can help to do something you enjoy every day.
- Try to keep to your usual routine and if you can’t visit friends or family, phone or Skype them often. Ask them if they could visit you more often.
- If you’ve been feeling 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.
How do I stay safe during winter?
Take care when driving
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to arrive.
- Always charge your mobile phone fully before you set off on a journey
- If you have to drive in bad weather, make sure you allow extra time for your journey.
- Make sure you have warm clothes, boots, food, water, a torch and a spade in the car.
Be careful of slippery or wet surfaces
- Wear boots, shoes and slippers with non-slip soles.
- Keep a mixture of salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather.
- Consider fitting a grab rail if you have steps at your front or back door.
- Get your heating system serviced every year by a qualified professional to ensure it's running safely.
- Make sure your smoke alarm is working. Change the batteries every 12 months.
- You can ask your local fire service for a free safety check of your home. You may be eligible to get free smoke alarms installed.
- Put guards on open fires, and be careful not to hang washing too close to the fire.
- Don’t block up air vents. Fires and heaters need ventilation.
- Test your carbon monoxide alarms. If don’t have any alarms, you need to get one fitted in each room that has a gas appliance, as there’s a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if air vents become blocked.
- Keep a torch handy in case you lose power and keep your radio, mobile phone, laptop or tablet fully charged, so you can use the battery power if there's no electricity.
- Keep a list of emergency numbers, such as your utility companies, by your phone. If there is a power cut, call the 105 electricity helpline. This helpline can give you more information about when your electricity is likely to come back on.
How can I keep myself warm?
Even if it isn’t a severe winter, cold weather makes us more susceptible to certain illnesses. Follow these tips to stay healthy and keep warm indoors and out.
Keeping warm inside
- If you’re sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Try to keep your feet up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
- Wear warm clothes in bed. When it’s very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat – a lot of heat is lost through your head.
- Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm the bed. Never use a hot-water bottle and an electric blanket together as this can be dangerous.
- Get your electric blanket checked every three years by an expert.
- Check whether your electric blanket can be kept on all night. Some blankets should only be used to warm the bed before you get in. If you have continence difficulties, talk to your doctor before using one.
Keeping warm outside
- Make sure you keep your hands and face warm. As well as wearing gloves and a hat, always wrap a scarf around your face when you go outside, even if it’s only for a short time. This helps to warm the air you breathe.
- Several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air. Clothes made from wool or fleecy synthetic fibres such as polyester are a better choice than cotton. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or socks.
- Keep your feet warm. Choose boots with non-slip soles and a warm lining, or wear thermal socks.
- Check local news and weather forecasts for advice when cold weather is predicted.
How can I keep my home warm?
- Close the curtains in the evenings and fit thermal linings if you can. This will keep the heat in.
- Keep your bedroom window closed at night when the weather is cold. The coldest time of the day is just before dawn and breathing in cold air increases the risk of chest infections.
- Draught-proof doors and windows, insulate the loft, lag the hot-water tank and pipes, and consider getting cavity-wall insulation. These measures will help to keep your home warm and your energy bills down – and you may be able to get financial help to set these up.
- Keep your main living room heated to 70°F (21°C).
- Heat your bedroom to 64°F (18°C).
How can I heat my home efficiently?
Energy prices are high, but heating your home is easier and cheaper if it’s well insulated and your heating works properly.
- Get to know how the timer and thermostat on your heating system work. You may be able to set the timer to switch the heating on earlier.
- 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 Safe-registered engineer.
- Ask your energy supplier about their Priority Services Register, which gives older or disabled people extra help and support.
Can I get any financial help with my energy bills?
If you’re finding it a struggle to cope, make sure you’re not missing out on any benefits or discounts that will help keep you and your home warm.
You may be able to get extra financial help from the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme if you’re on a low income, receive certain means-tested benefits such as Pension Credit, or live in a home that would be costly and difficult to make more energy efficient. To find out whether you’re eligible, contact the Energy Saving Trust.
Most people born on or before 6 August 1953 are entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment in 2017-18 to help with heating costs. This is a tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 paid to you between November and December.
If you receive Pension Credit, or certain other benefits, you’re automatically paid a Cold Weather Payment when the temperature is 0°C (32°F) or below for seven days in a row.
You may be entitled to a Warm Home Discount on your electricity bill if you receive Pension Credit or if you’re on a low income. It’s a one-off discount usually made between October and March.
Your local Age UK can give you a benefits check and let you know what other support you may receive. If you’re having difficulty paying your heating bills, Charis Grants can direct you to grants to help with utility bills.
Check your current energy tariff and shop around to see if you can get a better deal. Try our energy-switching tool to see if you might be better off switching to another energy provider.
If you’re having difficulty paying your bills, talk to your energy company. Companies should not disconnect all-pensioner households during winter months.
Check which benefits you're eligible for
More than £3.5bn worth of money in benefits goes unclaimed every year.
What should I do next?
- Get this year's flu jab. Speak with your GP to see if you’re up to date with other vaccinations too.
- Check your smoke alarm and/or carbon monoxide alarms are working. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve changed the batteries, replace them with new ones.
- Find out if you're eligible for any benefits or discounts to help with your energy bills. Contact your local Age UK or use our benefits calculator. It only takes around 10 minutes to complete it.
Where do I find more information?
Every year our Advice Service deals with thousands of calls from older people in need. Call us today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.