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SEP 12/2018

How Homecare Workers Can Help Reduce the Effects of a Cold Winter on the Elderly

This year, we’ve experienced a warm and long summer, enjoyed by many. Is it however, noticeably cooler and before long we’ll be preparing for the winter impact.

For most of us, it’s a time to cosy down with family by the fire, but for elderly people living on their own, it can be a time of apprehension.

How the cold effects older people

Elderly Person in the Cold

When we grow older, our bodies become less proficient at adapting to hot or cold weather. Not being able to adjust so efficiently can lead to health problems, sometimes serious, which is why it’s so important to take care of those who are more vulnerable during colder climates.  

According to Age UK, one older person dies every seven minutes due to cold weather (1). Many think that this is predominantly due to pneumonia, but in fact, older people are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, worsening arthritis and other accidents that can happen at home due to it being difficult to maintain body temperature.

Why is it difficult for older people to maintain body temperature?

We depend so heavily on our muscles to keep our body temperature up in colder weather, but researchers at Age UK report that once you reach the age of 55, you lose around 1% of your muscle mass every year (1). For the elderly (65 years of age or older), that could be a huge detriment, especially for those that will depend on gas and electric heaters, but have low incomes.

What can we do to help?

Homecare workers, who provide care and support to the vulnerable in their own homes, are often the only visitor a service user has for an entire day.

When you’re visiting your service users during the winter, remember some of the following tips to ensure that they stay safe, warm and kept away from ill health.

  • Ensure that they are appropriately dressed. If the service user says that they are cold, add a layer of clothing. Multiple layers are more effective at keeping people insulated compared to one thick layer.
  • Check the local news for weather warnings. If it’s going to get colder, make sure that they are prepared and have extra blankets and easy to apply clothes within reach should they require them.
  • Close the curtains in each room during the evenings to help keep the heat in and draughts out.
  • Ensure that all windows and doors where appropriate, are closed.
  • If the service user is relatively mobile, help them to have a walk around the house – even moderate exercise can help to keep people warm.
  • Check heating appliances and thermostats – are they set at the correct times and temperatures. The Energy Saving Trust suggests that the most effective thermostats are set between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius to maintain the desired temperature. (2)
  • Make sure that the service user is eating and drinking well to keep their energy up and report any changes to eating habits including non-responsiveness, to the office immediately. Always leave your service user with a drink to hand.

By taking these simple steps, we can help to prevent illnesses, worry and further admissions to GPs and hospitals.

If you know anyone who would like to make a difference in your community by caring for the elderly, share this article or click here for more information.

Source: (1) Age UK, (2) Energy Saving Trust 

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