Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
10:27 AM 8th February 2024

How To Help Elderly Family, Friends And Neighbours During A Cold Snap

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay
Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay
The Met Office has issued two yellow warnings for snow covering Wales, the Midlands, Yorkshire, the North East, North West and the East of England, for Thursday and Friday this week. As with the cold snap that hit the UK in early Jan, cold weather can put many people at risk, especially for older and vulnerable people across the UK.

The heightened risk has pushed the UK Health Security Agency to issue new alerts urging those who are at risk or vulnerable to cold to implement extra care and safeguarding precautions during the cold snap.

Dr Agostinho Sousa, Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at UKHSA, said:
"During periods like this, it is important to check in on family, friends and relatives who may be more vulnerable to the cold weather, as it can have a serious impact on health.

"If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over the age of 65, it is important to try and heat your home to at least 18°C if you can."

While poor weather often leads to increased risk, the financial pressures brought on by the cost of living crisis could have a drastic impact on the elderly population during this latest cold snap.

The crisis is already having an impact on the way we tackle winter months. A recent YouGov poll found that 1 in 7 older people may not turn their heating on this winter due to rising costs.

Dawn Collett, Commissioning Director at New Care Homes highlights some simple and effective steps that we can take to help protect and support elderly and vulnerable neighbours during severely cold weather.

Older and vulnerable people are more susceptible to illness and death during extreme weather conditions. However, with people across the country struggling with the ongoing cost of living crisis, many living at home are facing increased risk to their health and well-being.

Family members and neighbours can play a vital role in helping to support older and at-risk people in their communities. Whether that's by checking in or offering to pick up some essentials from the supermarket - small tasks and points of contact can go a very long way to help vulnerable people who need it the most during periods of incredibly bad weather.

Make Sure They Have Adequate Heating

This might seem like an obvious point, but it’s essential to ensure that your loved one or neighbour’s home has adequate heating.

Ideally, living rooms should be heated to 21°C and the rest of the home at around 18°C. Make sure your loved one or neighbour knows how their timer and thermostat works, and that radiators are set to the correct temperature. The coldest time of the night is early morning, so it’s worth setting the heating to kick in to take the chill off the house.

Look for and close off any draughts if possible. Regular culprits include letterboxes, cat flaps and gaps in doorways. Add additional seals around them or a draught excluder if needed. Add additional heat sources such as electric blankets or space heaters if needed. Inspect all items before use and make sure they are placed away from flammable materials.

If the home runs on a meter make sure it’s regularly topped up - offer to do a regular shop run if needed to add funds to a key or card. If someone you know is struggling financially and their health is at risk, contact your local Age UK office. They can conduct a benefits check to determine their eligibility for financial support. They might be able to claim fuel allowance or cold weather payments when temperatures drop to zero.

Stock The Food Pantry

Warm and nutritionally dense foods are incredibly important during the colder winter months. Not only are they vital for physical health, but delicious varied meals can play an important role in maintaining mental and emotional well-being as well.

Access to fresh and healthy food can become increasingly difficult for older or vulnerable people during the colder months. Going out for regular shopping trips can be difficult and dangerous depending on the weather.

There are a number of ways you can help to provide support. Bring a warm meal around when you can, and schedule regular drop-in times (in person or over the phone) to check in. When visiting, check to ensure their cupboards are stocked with easy-to-make and nutritious foods. Offer to do a food shop run or organise regular food deliveries. Most major supermarkets have an easy-to-use home delivery service that can be delivered to their door.

Older people are less likely to use food banks, often due to accessibility issues, loneliness, and negative perceptions. If your loved one or neighbour is struggling with food costs, don't hesitate to contact their local food bank for assistance. They can offer help and guidance on arranging regular food deliveries as well as other necessities.

Grab or Order In Medication

Receiving regular medication for health issues is essential, but poor weather can make it difficult to visit the local pharmacy.

If your neighbour or loved one is at risk, offer to visit the pharmacy for them. As a friend, neighbour or family member, you can pick up prescriptions for others providing you have their consent, are over the age of 18 and can produce ID which contains your name, date of birth and address.

However, You can also use online services to manage prescriptions and arrange home delivery. The NHS operate a free online Repeat Prescription Service, and many pharmacies operate an online service where prescriptions can be delivered, in some cases free of charge.

If cold weather is on its way, it’s also worth stocking up on cold and flu medicines. Keeping paracetamol, ibuprofen and cold, flu and sore throat remedies can be a great way to proactively prepare for cold weather symptoms. The sooner they’re addressed, the better.

Keep Them Bundled Up

Staying warm isn’t just about the heating; warm clothing can play an important role in helping people stay warm in their homes. Ageing skin is thinner and less likely to tolerate fluctuating temperatures. As a result, older people can lose body heat faster and are less able to tolerate the cold than younger adults.

When inside layered clothing is a great option when it comes to keeping warm. However, opt for several thinner layers as opposed to one thick layer as warmer air becomes trapped between the thinner layers. Wool or fleecy synthetic fibres like polyester over cotton can be a great combination. Make sure they have an abundance of warm socks and slippers to slip on in the mornings to wear throughout the day.

They absolutely MUST go outside, hats, gloves and thick wool socks and appropriate footwear are an absolute must. A scarf worn over the face can be a game-changer because it can take the edge off the cold air while breathing.

Keep Pathways Clear Outside

Sometimes going outside is a necessity, especially if it’s for something like a doctor's appointment. However, icy pathways can pose a significant fall risk even for the sure-footed. Older bones can also take longer to heal, and this recovery process can take its toll on both physical and mental well-being.

If you can contact the local council on your family member, friend or neighbour's behalf to see if they can come and grit their pathways. Some councils provide free bags of grit salt, so why not consider doing yours and theirs at the same time? Even the local postie will be thankful for the help.

Stay in Contact

Being able to stay in contact with others is incredibly important during the winter months. Not only does it ensure that they can ask for help when needed, but it can also provide some much-needed socialisation which can be difficult when the weather turns cold.

Make sure they have a list of emergency numbers that are clearly labelled and accessible. This list of contacts should include family members, emergency contacts, local agencies where applicable (social carers, local GP, 111, pharmacy etc) and utility companies in case there is an emergency.

It can be a good idea to duplicate this list and keep it in your own contacts. If your elderly family member, friend or neighbour is finding it difficult to make calls, you can often make calls on their behalf with their consent. That way you’ll be able to step in and help if needed.

In some circumstances, it can be difficult to know when someone needs help and assistance. However, there are some signs you can look out for to help you determine if an elderly or vulnerable person is in distress.

If you think someone is at immediate risk, call the emergency services on 999. If you're very concerned about someone's health or welfare but don't think it's an emergency, call 111 for NHS advice, 24 hours a day.

If possible, ask the individual if they have a care team and if they have any available contact information if there are signs that they need help. Contact the care team and give them an update on the current situation, and they will be able to act accordingly.

In other situations, you can contact the local council or Age UK office where the person lives and raise an adult safeguarding concern. This should be done with the consent of the person where possible.