The cold winter weather is unpleasant for everyone, but for your elderly neighbours it can mean more than just having to defrost the car and turning the heating up a bit. Older people can struggle in a variety of ways during the winter months; they are more susceptible to illnesses and might find it difficult to go about their daily routine if there is ice or snow on the ground. Maybe they aren’t capable of preparing themselves a hot meal or staying warm due to high heating bills or immobility. Looking after those vulnerable members of our community is easier if we know a bit about the dangers they might face, and how we can help. The first step is getting to know your elderly neighbours and take note of their routines and lifestyle. Do they live alone? Have a lot of visitors? Have a carer who comes in? Do they have issues with mobility, or are they still quite active? All of these things will contribute to their quality of life, and it is those who live alone and have no visitors that aren’t able to get out and about who might need your support most during the winter months. Let’s take a look at some of the problems the elderly might face.
● Illnesses – As we get older our immune system becomes weaker, making it much harder to fight off germs and infections. Colds, flu, norovirus, and pneumonia are all common winter ailments, and over 60% of cases of those illnesses that need hospital treatment are in people over 65.
● Staying Warm – Muscle mass keeps us warm, and over the age of 55 we begin to lose 1% of our muscle mass every year; combine that with the fact that older bodies have to work harder to keep warm and you can see how the cold can put more pressure on our circulatory systems and hearts. Being exposed to cold temperatures can cause blood pressure to rise, and the blood to thicken, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
● Disabilities – An older person could suffer many disabilities to varying degrees, whether that means being immobile and housebound, or just struggling with getting about due to arthritis or frailty. Colder weather, especially prolonged periods or extreme conditions such as snow, could mean that older people feel even more isolated and lonely – particularly if the weather is too bad for them to go about their daily routine, or for relatives or friends to visit. If there is an older person in your community that could be affected by any of these factors,
there are some things you could do to help out during the cold weather that would make their lives a little easier. Such as:
● Helping With Medications – Everyone over the age of 65 is entitled to a free flu jab,even those who are fit and healthy. Do your elderly neighbours need help getting to a doctor or a pharmacy to have the jab? Maybe they don’t drive, or do, but are wary of driving to the doctors or walking to a bus stop in icy weather. Could you offer a lift? Let your neighbour know that there is a vaccine for pneumonia too, they can ask when they go for their flu jab if they are eligible. Find out if your neighbour needs to stock up on any cold or sore throat remedies, or needs any prescriptions picking up. Sometimes older people don’t like to ask others for favours for fear of putting them out, but not nipping symptoms in the bud if they are feeling under the weather could be a recipe for disaster that leads to nastier illnesses.
● Are They warm Enough? – It is a sad fact that a lot of elderly people, particularly those living alone on a state pension struggle to afford to heat their homes. If you have an elderly neighbour whom you suspect may be experiencing this situation advise them to get in touch with Age UK, or call them for some advice yourself. They might be able to support with heating costs or give energy-saving tips, such as government funded schemes for cavity wall insulation etc. Practical ways you can help is checking that they have enough blankets and warm clothing, such as thick socks to keep feet warm, gloves, and scarves.
● Encourage Them To Move – Possibly not the easiest subject for a neighbour to broach, but it is important that older people don’t stay inactive for long periods, especially during cold weather. Even if someone has a condition that makes movements difficult, any small amount of activity is better than none. If you are on really good terms with your neighbour, maybe just ask them if they are staying relatively active and mention some of the health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure and keeping joints supple.
● Are They Eating Well? – At least one hot meal a day, as well as hot drinks, are important during the winter. If the weather has been particularly bad, could you offer to pick a few things up from the shop so they don’t have to go out? Are you cooking a large family meal and have made a bit extra that you could take round for them to heat up? This will all depend on how independent your neighbour is – perhaps they get shopping delivered, and are perfectly capable of cooking themselves a hot meal. It pays to be vigilant and offer a helping hand if you feel it’s needed.