It’s a sad fact, but more people aged over 65 die in the winter months than at other times of the year. Whether it’s COVID-19 or something else, elderly people are more vulnerable. This is because the cold weather suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of contracting flu and serious colds, and can also contribute to cases of hypothermia, breathing problems and cardiovascular conditions such as heart attacks.
It’s important to keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 guidance (and Age UK offer advice for those who lend a hand, even if it’s only the odd shopping run), but there are still a number of ways you can help with care of the elderly this winter.
Keep an eye out for illness
By keeping up with your visits, you’ll be able to spot any signs of illness, and help get medical care quickly. As well as their COVID-19 jabs and boosters, all people aged over 65 are eligible for a free flu jab under the NHS. When you visit look out for any signs of illness. Do they seem drowsy? Is their home cold, but they don’t seem to be aware? Have they got a hacking cough? These are all signs that they have some kind of health problem (including complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia) that can be especially risky in winter.
Keep them warm
An important point surrounding care of the elderly is to make sure their home is warm. Older people take longer to get warm than younger people, and lose heat more quickly. As they are also often less active than younger people, it's easy for them to get cold fast without realising it.
If you know an elderly person who lives alone or has poor health, then ask if you can do something for them this winter
The home should be kept to at least 18 degrees Celsius, and they should wear enough clothing to be warm. A hot water bottle (especially for those who are less mobile) is a good way to keep warm both in bed and when sitting in the living room.
If you find an older person is very cold then:
Get them into warm, dry clothes and wrap them in warm blankets. A lot of heat is lost through the head so a woolly hat will help.
Give them a warm drink, like tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
Turn up the heating in their house to raise the ambient temperature.
Don’t rub their body or use heat pads and similar items, because this opens up the blood vessels near the surface of the skin quickly and they can lose more heat in this way. As they become colder they become more likely to suffer severe hypothermia and it can also lead to heart attacks and other complications.
Offer a helping hand
Quite often, older people will struggle along, even when things are getting too much, and be reluctant to ask for help. This can lead to them restricting their lifestyle as they worry about being unable to cope, and they can end up isolated and depressed.
If you know an elderly person who lives alone or has poor health, then ask if you can do something for them this winter. Sometimes something as simple as picking up prescriptions, helping with shopping or putting out the rubbish is enough. Not only will you be doing something practical to improve their life, but they’ll know that somebody is looking out for them, which can boost their confidence.
Just be there
Care for the elderly doesn’t need to involve much at all. Older people don’t always need help, but most people like someone to talk to. So make sure you check in with them - even if circumstances mean you have to hold off on that cup of tea, take the time to call. The important thing is just to be there and to listen.
Winter can be a depressing time for lots of people, but older people often suffer the most during this season. Everyone can help with the care of the elderly and it doesn’t take much to have a big impact.