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Top Winter Safety Tips for Elderly People

Monday, 22nd January 2018

The winter months can bring many challenges for all of us as we experience the effects of lower temperatures, snow and ice. Elderly people are particularly at risk during this time, not only because of slippery surfaces and the increased risk of falls, but also because our bodies respond differently to the cold as we age leaving us more susceptible to serious health problems.

Here are some top tips to help elderly people stay safe and healthy in winter.

1. Eat well

People tend to spend more time indoors during winter so they may end up having a less varied diet which can cause nutritional deficiencies. It is important to keep a good range of foods in your diet including fruit and vegetables to provide plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Keep stocks of food in the cupboard or the freezer in case it is too cold to go out shopping. You can also do food shopping online and have it delivered to your house – either arrange this yourself or a relative / neighbour may be able to do this with you.

Hot meals and drinks can also help keep you warm so at least one hot meal a day is advisable and have plenty of warm drinks throughout the day. If you receive support from a carer it is a good idea to ensure this is included in the nutrition and hydration part of your care plan.

2. Plan your medications

There may be times when it is harder to pick up your medications from the pharmacy so it is important to plan so you don’t run out of supplies. Order your prescription in advance in case there is bad weather or you’re too unwell to go and pick it up. Most pharmacies can also deliver your medications to your home, if you don’t already have this arrangement in place. You may also wish to keep a supply of cold and flu remedies in the house just in case.

3. Avoid slipping on ice or wet surfaces

Icy, snowy or wet walkways make it easy to slip or fall in winter. Keep a supply of salt and sand mixture to help remove ice from steps or paths outside the home. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear with non-slip soles and when you re-enter the house take off your shoes at the door as bringing snow and ice inside can create slippery floors. Replacing a worn tip to a walking stick can make walking easier. It may also be worth considering whether it would be helpful to fit a grab rail if you have steps at the front or back door.

4. Wrap up warm when outside

Even when winter is not severe, cold weather can make us more susceptible to certain illnesses. Elderly people are at an even greater risk of cold related conditions such as hypothermia.

If you are going outside keep your face and hands warm with gloves and a hat, and wrapping a scarf around your face can help warm up the air you breathe. Wearing multiple layers of thin clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing so do think about getting your thermals! Also keep your feet warm with socks and the right footwear.

Signs of hypothermia to look out for include cold skin that is pale or ashy; feeling very tired, confused and sleepy; feeling weak; problems walking; slowed breathing or heart rate. Shivering is not a reliable warning sign because elderly people tend to shiver less or not at all when their body temperature drops.

5. Be careful when driving

When going out in the car ideally tell someone where you are going and when you should arrive by. Always have a mobile phone with you and if the weather is bad allow extra time for your journey. Also, it is common for elderly people to drive less so having the car checked and serviced before winter can be advisable.

6. Keep warm inside

Keeping the house warm is clearly important be sure to have your heating system checked every year by a professional. Older people can get extra help and support through their energy supplier’s Priority Services Register. Closing curtains in the evenings keeps the heat in and ensuring good insulation will keep energy bills down. Also keep a list of your utility company emergency numbers in case there is an outage and you can call the 105 electricity helpline if there is a power cut to get more information about when it will be restored.

When sitting, a shawl or blanket can help keep you warm and keeping feet up can be good as the air is cooler on the ground. In bed wear warm clothes or, if it is very cold, thermal underwear. A hot water bottle or electric blanket obviously help but these should never be used together. You should also have your electric blanket checked every three years.

7. Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

A fireplace, gas heater or lantern can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning so each room that has a gas appliance should have a carbon monoxide alarm. Test your carbon monoxide alarms regularly and replace or get new batteries as required. Don’t block up air vents as fires and heaters need ventilation.

You should also check your smoke alarms regularly and replace batteries every 12 months – your local fire service will do a free check for you and you may be eligible to get free smoke alarms installed.

Don’t forget, if you are ever concerned in winter speak to somebody and ask for their help – family, a friend, a neighbour or your home care provider.

Disclaimer: This article has been produced for guidance only and does not constitute medical or legal advice. Photo by David Beale on Unsplash.