As the days get shorter and cold weather approaches, you might want to consider the physical and mental wellbeing of your elderly loved ones. Wintertime brings a whole host of health risks and complications for older adults in the UK due to the cold weather and low temperatures. Fortunately, there are some precautions you can take to mitigate these risks and make sure your loved ones are looked after this winter.

Cold weather health risks

One of the biggest problems for many older adults, especially those living on their own, is not staying warm enough in their homes. When temperatures fall below 8C, older adults can have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, flu, pneumonia, and in serious cases of low temperatures – hypothermia.

What is hypothermia?

Older adults can quickly lose body heat and aren’t always aware of their temperature, making it easy for them to become too cold, too quickly. Body temperature below 35C (normal temperature is 37C) can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous for older adults; especially those living alone as there’s not someone around to notice the early signs.

Early signs of hypothermia:

  • Cold hands and feet
  • Puffy or swollen face
  • Pale skin
  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Lethargic
  • Anger or confusion

Later signs of hypothermia:

  • Slow or jerky movements including trouble walking and clumsiness
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If you notice signs of hypothermia, call 999 and seek immediate medical attention.

Preventing hypothermia and other cold weather health risks

Most cold weather health risks, including hypothermia, can be avoided by staying warm. Winter can be a financially difficult time for pensioners and they might be tempted to turn the heat down to save money. Even keeping home temperatures between 15C and 18C might not be warm enough to avoid health risks.

If you live nearby, it might be a good idea to pop round to make sure their heating is in working order and they know how to turn up the heat. If you don’t live nearby, you can hire a carer to come into the home, even just for a regular cup of tea, and they’ll keep an eye on the temperature to make sure it doesn’t get too cold.

Government heating support

The UK government also provides financial support to help cover heating costs. Anyone born on or before 5 November 1953 could qualify for a Winter Fuel Payment and receive £100 to £300 towards heating bills. Most eligible people will automatically receive the payment, but you may need to make a claim. In particularly cold weather, when temperatures fall below zero for seven consecutive days, they might also qualify for a Cold Weather Payment.

You can find more information about heating and housing benefits on the government website.

Caring for older adults’ mental health

In addition to physical health risks, older people are also more likely to suffer from loneliness or depression during the winter months. When the weather is grim, it’s easy for them to become isolated and avoid going out.

You can encourage them to stay active by going for short walks or doing some winter gardening. Or, if you live nearby, you can go out for lunch or to the shops with them. You can also hire companions, who’ll accompany them to the shops, community centre, or while walking the dog. Getting out and about will also help older people maintain their circulation and stay fit.

Age UK offers a befriending service to help reduce loneliness and isolation or you can hire regular companionship or care through Care Sourcer.

Winter safety for seniors: check the car

If your relative still drives their car, make sure to have the car serviced before the snow falls. Driving in winter often means driving in poor conditions or, at best, poor lighting. Bringing the car for a check-up can ensure that it’s in good working order and will be safe to drive this winter.

Talk to your loved one and make sure they’re still confident driving in wintry conditions. It may help to provide alternatives forms of transport like helping them to secure a free travel pass, giving them money for a taxi or offering to drive them.

Checklist: winter weather tips for seniors

Whether you live near or far, there are some cold weather precautions you can take to promote the positive well-being of your loved ones this winter.

Staying warm and healthy

  • Keep temperatures above 21C in living rooms and above 18C in bedrooms
  • Ensure they eat warming, nutritious meals
  • Make sure they have enough blankets and warm clothing
  • Pop round or hire a carer to check on temperatures
  • Register for heating benefits

Cold weather safety for seniors

  • Make sure they wear sturdy footwear to prevent slips and falls
  • Spread grit on pathways and driveways to stop slippery surfaces
  • Check the car to ensure it’s in good working order
  • Install handrails for steps and other problematic outdoor areas

Good winter mental health

  • Spend time together either on the phone or in person
  • Encourage them to get out in the community and meet new people
  • Help them stay active with low-impact activities like walking or swimming

Home care for the elderly in their own homes

Some people worry that home care will restrict their loved one’s independence and freedom. However, home care packages can be tailored to suit your family’s needs, however big or small. It can be as simple as someone visiting your Mum to check on the heating or to have a blether over a cup of tea. Whether you’re looking for someone to do the shopping during bad weather, prepare warming meals or provide personal services, Care Sourcer can help connect you with the right care agencies.

Care Sourcer offers a searchable directory of local care agencies. If you need care urgently, our team of care experts are also available by telephone to guide you through the process.