Keep warm to keep the bugs away
Cold weather can affect everyone, but if you are an older person then you need to take special care to keep warm because you will be more vulnerable to illness. This is especially so if you are seriously underweight, disabled, suffer from bronchitis, emphysema or asthma, or have experienced a stroke or any kind of heart condition.
Simple steps to follow
By following a few simple steps, you can make sure that you keep warm during the winter and protect yourself from common winter illnesses:
Use room thermometers and keep your room at a temperature between 21C to 24C (70F to 75F). If the temperature falls below 16C, you may be at risk of hypothermia, a heart attack or stroke.
Avoid sitting for long periods. Move around as much as possible - even doing the vacuuming will get your circulation going and warm you up. If you are unable to walk, just moving your arms and legs, as well as wiggling your fingers and toes, will help you to keep warm.
Wear lots of layers of clothing, preferably of natural material or man-made fibres that breathe. Thermal underwear can help keep out the chill.
If you can afford to do so, you might want to consider heating your bedroom throughout the night.
Otherwise, warm the bedroom before going to bed - use a hot water bottle and wear warm nightwear. You may decide to invest in an electric blanket, although this should never be used at the same time as a hot water bottle.
Keep the bedroom window closed - evidence suggests that a cold draught to the head can cause your blood pressure to increase.
Don't go outdoors without warm clothing and sturdy boots or shoes.
Keep your feet warm by adding insoles to your shoes.
Always cover your head, hands and feet (even if you're indoors) - you'll stay much warmer that way, especially as a lot of your body heat is lost through your head.
Eating properly means eating healthily
During the winter months, it is very important to eat food that will help you to build up your resistance. Hot meals and hot drinks will give you a feeling of wellbeing:
Eat at least three times a day - including at least one hot meal.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - five portions a day if possible (one portion of fruit equals, for example, one apple, orange or banana; two small fruits, such as plums, kiwis or satsumas; one cupful of berries; two to three tablespoonfuls of fresh fruit salad, stewed or canned fruit; or one glass (150ml) of fruit juice. One portion of vegetables equals two tablespoonfuls of raw, cooked, frozen or canned vegetables or one dessert bowl full of salad. Fresh vegetables and fruit are the 'best buy' nutritionally, but frozen, tinned, and dried produce count too).
Have hot drinks throughout the day - including one before going to bed. In fact, you might want to keep a flask containing a hot drink by your bed in case you are cold during the night.
You need protein, energy and vitamins and these can be found in bread (preferably wholemeal), milk, meat, fish, eggs, potatoes and beans (including baked beans).
Try to keep in a stock of basic foods (dried, tinned or frozen) in case you have a brief illness or cannot shop because of the bad weather.
Flu - the winter bug
Flu is common in winter and everyone over the age of 65 should have a free flu 'jab' from their doctor every autumn (from October to early November is ideal). Most GPs have stocks from around September onwards, so don't wait for a flu epidemic before you make enquiries. It is important to have the flu jab every year, as the virus changes and you may no longer be protected against the most recent strain of flu. If you are housebound, you should be able to have the jab at home - just ask your doctor's surgery about this.
Are you living alone?
If you are alone, try to make sure that someone - a friend, relative or neighbour - can help with shopping, collecting prescriptions, paying bills, etc., if you cannot get out either because of the weather or because you become unwell. Check your local pharmacies to see if any offer a home delivery service for prescription items.
Help with saving energy
The best way to save money and keep your house warm is to make it as energy efficient as possible. You may be able to get a grant towards insulating your loft, draught proofing doors and windows, etc. through the Warm Front scheme, which is now managed throughout England by Carillion plc and was amended in June 2005 to include Central Heating for all clients and oil central heating for those not on the gas distribution network. Visit www.carillionplc.com to request a free phone call. You can also speak to the Energy Saving Trust for advice about making your home more energy efficient. Grants to heat your house may also be available from your local authority.
British Gas runs a 'here to HELP' energy efficiency scheme, offering free insulation to people on certain benefits (this includes Pension Credit, for example). To find out more about whether you qualify, call the 'here to HELP' telephone line on 0800 077 3717
Get your central heating checked at least once a year to make sure that it is working properly. Your gas or electricity supplier may offer free checks if you are aged 60 or over.
Make sure that you know how your thermostat works, so that you can set the heating to come on and off at specific times and maintain a temperature of around 21C.
Eliminate draughts and wasted heat by installing a draught seal around exterior doors. Cover letterboxes and key holes too. Try not to use loose draught excluders though, as these are easy to trip over.
Fill in gaps in floorboards and skirting boards with newspaper, wooden beading or sealant to help stop heat (and money) being wasted.
Buy an energy-saving light bulb. Trade your ordinary light bulbs for energy- saving ones, which last 12 times longer, and for each bulb you fit, you could save up to £7 on your annual electricity bill. Always turn lights off when you leave a room.
Fit an insulating jacket to your hot water cylinder. Jackets only cost a few pounds and will pay for themselves within a few months, Fit one that is at least 75mm (3in) thick and it could save £40 a year. By insulating your cold water tank, you can also protect it from freezing over during the winter.
Insulate your loft. You may be able to get a grant to help with this.
Look for the energy saving recommended logo when replacing appliances. Using energy saving appliances could save you an estimated £35 a year.
Close curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows. Ideally, your curtains should go to the floor, although it's important that they don't drape in front of your radiators as they will direct the heat out of the window.
Double glazing is very effective in cutting heat loss but it can be expensive. A cheaper option is to attach plastic film or sheeting to your window frame.
Winter Fuel Payment
The Winter Fuel Payment is to help you pay for your heating in winter. It is normally given towards the end of the year to everyone who gets State Retirement Pension or some other benefits and is aged 60 or over.
If you are aged 60 to 79 and you are entitled to receive a Winter Fuel Payment, you will get either £100 or £200, depending on your circumstances in the qualifying week (usually in mid-September).
If you are aged 80 or over and you are entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment you could get up to £300 depending on your circumstances in the qualifying week. You do not pay tax on Winter Fuel Payments. If you do not currently receive a Winter Fuel Payment, and think you might qualify, then check with the Winter Fuel Payments helpline.
At the time of writing (March 2012) we are not able to predict changes to the availability of services, benefits or entitlements in the next 12 month. We strongly recommend that you double check any information given to find out what is the current situation.
Lifelines and community alarms
If you worry about having an accident or falling ill while you are at home alone, Lifeline schemes and community alarms provide emergency access to 24-hour control centres. The housing department of your local council, Age UK will be able to give you more information about them.
Staying cool in the summer
The increasingly hot summer months present a number of health problems for older people. Charities such as Age UK are keen to stress that by following a few simple steps, you can protect yourself or an older friend or relative from heat-related illnesses:
Avoid going out at the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm)
If you must go out, stay in the shade, wear a hat and loose-fitting clothes and plenty of high factor sun block
Make sure that you carry a water bottle at all times, particularly if you are travelling by car or bus
Keep outdoor activities like gardening to the cooler parts of the day or even the evening
Close the curtains in rooms that get a lot of sun but keep the windows open when you're at home to keep the room ventilated
Splash your face and the back of your neck with cold water several times a day
Drink lots of water and fruit juice, even if you don't feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol as this will dehydrate you.
Coping with the weather
Care in your own home
Retirement housing and sheltered housing
Finding a care home
Legal and financial matters for the elderly
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Advice & Information for the elderly