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Keeping your elderly relatives safe this winter.

Welcome to our first blog of 2021. The beginning of January is a good time to reset and create new goals, however it is also the time that we begin what is often the coldest part of our winter here in the UK. Therefore, we thought we would share will you all the importance of winter safety particularly for older adults. Older adults tend to lose body heat faster than when they were younger and changes in the body that come with ageing can also make them less aware that they’re getting cold. This means they can go from cold with a chill to rapidly becoming ill with hyperthermia.

Hyperthermia is what happens when the body temperature gets very low. A body temperature that is too low can cause liver damage, kidney problems, heart attacks and in the most severe case, death. There are both early warning signs and late signs of hyperthermia.

Early signs:

  • Pale skin

  • Cold feet and hands

  • Shivering (not in every case)

  • Slow speech or slurred words

  • Acting sleepy or confused

Later signs:

  • Slow, shallow breathing

  • Slow heartbeat

  • Having trouble walking

  • Appearing to be clumsy

  • Losing consciousness

  • Stiff arm or leg movements

If you suspect your loved one may have hyperthermia you should immediately call 999. Once you have called the emergency services there are a few things you can do to help the person. Try to move them to somewhere warmer and wrap them in a blanket. Give them something to drink but avoid caffeine or alcohol. Do not rub their arms or legs, warm them in a bath or use a heating pad.

There are of course things you can do to help prevent hyperthermia in older adults.

Firstly, we recommend checking the weather forecast before taking them outside and avoiding particularly cold and windy days. If you do need to go out, ensure that they are dressed in a warm coat with a hat and scarf as body heat can be rapidly lost through the head.

Secondly, we wanted to remind you all of the importance of making sure they are warm whilst inside their home. We can often forget about the risk of hyperthermia to the elderly whilst they are indoors. Living in a cold home can present just as many risks as the outside temperature. We recommend that the temperature inside should be kept above 20°C and if the cost of heating is an issue rolled up towels or old items of clothing can be placed in front of any doors to prevent a draft. Another way to keep the heat in is by keeping curtains and blinds closed. Some more useful advice is to ensure that your elderly relative is dressed in warm clothing and has access to blankets and that they are eating enough food to keep their body weight up. A higher body fat ratio helps keep the body warm. Large amounts of alcohol consumption should be avoided as alcoholic drinks lead to the loss of body heat. Finally, make sure to regularly check up on any older adults in your life during the winter period, this way you can make ensure they are keeping warm and safe.

Finally, we wanted to share some advice from Age UK about how you can advise your loved one on energy efficiency and making their home warmer. You can make a home warmer and reduce the energy bills by improving the homes insulation and making sure the heating system is efficient. Insulating the roof, loft spaces and walls can significantly reduce heat loss in a home. Other things that can be done to create a more energy efficient home is the insulation of hot water tanks and pipes as this will reduce the amount spent on hot water. Insulating the floor and fitting double glazing will also help. Draught proofing as previously mentioned, stops cold air getting into a property and is a cheap and cost-effective way of reducing the cost of heating.

However, if the cost of heating or insulating a home is still a worry, there are ways to get help your elderly relative. If they receive Pension Credit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, they may be able eligible for a Budgeting Loan from the Social Fund. Winter Fuel Payments are also available as a one-off payment of between £100 and £300 paid to elderly households to help with fuel costs.

Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog and we hope it has been informative. Subscribe for more content and stay safe!

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