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Help the elderly to stay well and avoid serious injury as winter bites

05 January 2017


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With cold winter weather upon us, the NHS in Bedfordshire urges local residents to look out for elderly and vulnerable people and help them to stay well and safe.                     

Cold weather can affect everyone, but for older people a drop in temperature can aggravate some health problems, and make injury or illness more likely: it can lead to a spell in hospital which could be avoided with some simple actions.

The elderly are more susceptible to cold for several reasons.  If they are not active, not eating enough, take medication that interferes with the body’s ability to regulate temperature, or their house is cold 1, it can all lead to health problems.

As people get older they are more likely to have a long-term health condition which can affect their ability to feel the cold. This can affect people who have dementia, heart problems, severe arthritis, or stroke.

Nobody wants to be injured by falling when it is icy or snowing, but elderly or frail people are at risk of exactly that – ending up with a broken femur (thigh bone).  Over 75s are more likely to fall due to balance problems and muscle weakness; poor vision and long term conditions such as heart disease; dementia or low blood pressure (hypotension) which can lead to dizziness and sometimes a brief loss of consciousness.

GP Dr Alvin Low, Chair of NHS Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (BCCG) said:

“In the UK, falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75, so it makes sense to take action to prevent a fall.” 2

“If you have elderly relatives or neighbours, could you offer some practical support and help them take extra precautions against the effects of cold weather?

“Drop by regularly to check that they are OK - a friendly knock on the door can make all the difference.  Perhaps offer to get their shopping, collect a prescription, stock up with remedies for a cold, or ensure they get a hot meal and stay warm enough at home.

"Did you know that many pharmacies will deliver medication to vulnerable people so they don’t have to go out in the cold? ”

Here are some top tips to help older people stay healthy and safe this winter:

  • Ask your pharmacy if they offer a prescription pick-up and delivery service so you don’t have to go out to collect medication in bad weather.
  • Wear plenty of layers, particularly when leaving the house and make sure you have warm shoes or boots with non-slip soles.
  • Keep bedroom windows closed at night in cold weather – chilly night air can make some health conditions worse, and homes should be heated to at least 18 degrees C.
  • Eat healthily and keep as active as possible.  Keep a good supply of basic foods in the cupboard or freezer in case it becomes too cold to go shopping.
  • Check your heating and plumbing systems are working properly and have been serviced recently.
  • Ask if neighbours, family or friends can make checks on you periodically.
  • Keep an eye on weather forecasts, particularly severe weather warnings from the Met Office.
  • Keep a mixture of salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather.
  • Keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies in the house.
  • Follow up your GP’s invitation to have a flu jab even if you had the vaccination last winter.
  • Order repeat prescriptions in plenty of time, particularly if bad weather is forecast.
  • Do not go out unless you have to when it is icy or has been snowing.

For more information on staying well this winter visit www.nhs.uk/staywell 

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