Surviving Winter

Surviving Winter - Image shows a house covered in snow

Surviving winter becomes harder as you age. You become more vulnerable to illnesses, and there are risks that can impact you more than others. Here, we go through illnesses and other winter risks, that may cause a problem to your loved ones, as well as ways to prevent them.

Surviving Winter Illnesses

Most people contract an illness during winter, however elderly people are more at risk. Making sure they are regularly seen by yourself or a carer, means you can be sure if they are still feeling well. During these visits, be sure to check that they are eating well and have enough food in the house, so they can avoid going out into the cold too often. If they are not capable, then you should ensure that the meals are pre-made, so that they just need reheating. This will save time and is easier to remind them about using devices such as Alexa.

Making sure your loved one has had their flu jab is another way to protect them over the winter season. Check to see if they had received their flu jabs or any other extra winter medication they may require. You should also check in case you may require a flu jab.

Surviving the Cold & Damp

Surviving winter can be as simple as keeping warm and dry. The cold and sometimes damp weather can cause many illnesses, and so keeping warm and changing out of damp clothes can be effective. Heating is a simple way to keep your loved ones healthy, so make sure that theri heating is on, and is working effectively. Allowing the house to get too cold is a false economy.

Other heating methods include fireplaces and electric fires/heaters – these come at a risk as it is advised that every home with at least one fuel-burning appliance/heater, attached garage or fireplace, have a carbon monoxide alarm. If the home has only one carbon monoxide alarm, it should be installed in the main bedroom or in the hallway outside of the sleeping area. Dehumidifiers are also a smart purchase, as they can prevent damp air from sapping away heat from the extremities.

Learn more about carbon monoxide risks: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 35℃. It can be fatal, and infants and older people are especially at risk. The normal body temperature is 37℃ and so you should look out for early signs to respond quickly.

Below are some signs you should look out for. If you think someone is suffering from hypothermia, contact the emergency services immediately.

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
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

If you think someone is suffering from hypothermia, contact the emergency services immediately. There are some actions you can take to help the person until the emergency services arrive, but below are some things YOU SHOULD NOT DO, as they can make the condition worse, and even cause cardiac arrest.

DO NOT:

  • Put the person into a hot bath
  • Massage their limbs
  • Use heating lamps
  • Give them alcohol to drink
  • Apply a warm compress to arms or legs

If you are unsure as to what you can do whilst waiting for the emergency services, or you are untrained in first aid, ask the emergency service to advise you until they arrive.

  • Keep him or her in a horizontal position, if possible.
  • If possible, remove any wet clothing from the sufferer
  • Cover the person with blankets. using layers of dry blankets or coats to warm the person. Also covering the person’s head, leaving only the face exposed.
  • If you outside and are able to place something underneath the person, insulate the person’s body from the cold ground using items similar to pillows and blankets 
  • Monitor their breathing. A person with severe hypothermia may appear unconscious, with no apparent signs of a pulse or breathing. If the person’s breathing has stopped or appears dangerously low or shallow the emergency service may ask you to start CPR.

Sometimes the affected person is alert and therefore is able to swallow. Providing a warm, sweet, non- alcoholic, non-caffeinated drink can help warm the body. This links to another problem which elderly people may often have a problem with in cold weather, and that is dehydration. Surprisingly during the winter months, the cool temperature can reduce the body’s thirst response. 

Surviving Winter by Staying hydrated

Without the sweat, we’re tricked into thinking we aren’t losing fluids as rapidly as during a hot summers day. But that is where we are wrong. Sweat evaporates more rapidly in the cold, dry air, and that can result in dehydration. Anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk. As you age, your body’s ability to conserve water is reduced, your thirst sense becomes less acute, and you’re less able to respond to changes in temperature. Those factors all increase the risk of dehydration.

Older adults, especially those in nursing homes or living alone, tend to eat less than younger people and sometimes may even forget to eat or drink altogether, which of course adds to the risk of dehydration. Having uncontrolled or untreated diabetes also puts someone at a high risk of dehydration. Other chronic illnesses, such as kidney disease and heart failure, also make you more likely to become dehydrated. Even having a cold or sore throat makes you more susceptible to dehydration because you’re less likely to feel like eating or drinking when you’re sick.

The best way to deal with dehydration is to prevent it, by managing your loved one’s hydration by checking on them and making sure they drink frequently. It is one of the easiest of the problems to prevent, but severe dehydration is a medical emergency and can cause irritability and confusion in adults, little or no urination, sunken eyes, shriveled and dry skin that lacks elasticity and doesn’t “bounce back” when pinched into a fold, and feeling faint or passing out when rising from lying to sitting or from sitting to standing.

Surviving Other Winter Problems

Some more problems in winter that can often be more of a problem for elderly people, include power cuts, Ice and snow. Power cuts are not too common, but can cause problems for some people, especially elder people. It is a good idea to have battery powered equipment like lights and torches in case of a power cut. To ensure your loved one can see properly. Phones can be effective as well, but don’t rely on them as they are used throughout the day. Which means they are likely to have low power. In the case of a power cut, it is also a good idea to have spare batteries as you do not know when you’ll get power back.

Ice can be a problem for elderly people as it can cause serious injuries. It is a danger to people of all ages, but older people are more at risk of serious damage due to their weaker bones. If possible, you or a carer should accompany your loved one if they want to go outside for a walk or to shop. Ice can also include frost, which can sometimes create slippery surfaces. 

Snow may not be forecasted for where you live, but the weather can be unpredictable. Especially in the UK. We advise you to stock up on non-perishable food during winter, in case of heavy snow. It is also not the best idea to have your elderly loved one going shopping in the cold, slippery snow, so it will also allow them to stay indoors during these extra cold days.