Stay safe in winter with these safety tips for the elderly
When the weather gets really bad every school child in the country is praying for a “Snow Day” so they can stay home from school, sledge down the local hill and build snow men with their friends. But, for older people among us bad weather is no fun! Ice and snow pose real dangers to older people both inside and outside the home, so what can we do to make life safer for older people during cold weather?
Avoiding slips and falls
Slips and falls can be devastating to an older person, causing bruises, fractures and other injuries it can also cause a real loss of confidence that lasts much longer than the physical injuries. But there are some simple steps that although don’t remove all risk they do lower it:
- Use salt to remove ice and snow from paths and steps (never use warm water to melt the ice it will just come back later but be much more dangerous).
- Only go out if absolutely necessary, if friends or family can go to the shops for you or if you can get home deliveries for essentials you are reducing your risk.
- Get medications delivered with automatic electronic prescriptions, rather than going to GP and then the pharmacist. If in doubt both your GP surgery and local pharmacy can advise or even subscribe to an on-line service.
- Wear appropriate footwear: they need to have a good grip on the sole, have a strong support around the foot and ankle and be well fitting.
- If you have a stick but don’t normally need it consider using it in bad weather, if you don’t have one consider getting one. It needs to be appropriate for the conditions if you are unsure speak visit a mobility shop and they will give you all the advice you need.
- If it is slippery and cold outside, get somebody to go with you when they venture out the house.
Keeping the heating on
Older people, especially those on low-incomes, often worry about paying the heating bills and try hard to minimise how much energy thy use, even in very cold snaps. If you have a friend or relative in this position make sure you visit them to ensure they are warm enough.
- They are not heating or lighting unused rooms.
- They have received any insulation grants that they may be entitled to, so their home is as efficient as possible.
- Make sure if they are using portable heaters they are safe and do not present a hazard or risk of fire or burning.
- Make sure that smoke and CO2 alarms are working with adequate battery life.
- Check the central heating is working correctly and set to come on at the right times or the thermostat is set to the right temperature.
- Check the hot water set on continuous wasting money unnecessarily.
- Make sure they are in receipt of their Winter Fuel Payment, which gives between £100 and £300 tax free to help pay for heating.
- If there is a cold snap between the start of November and the end of March where the temperature stays below 2 degrees Celsius they will qualify for the Cold Weather Payment.
Wear plenty of layers of clothing
We all know that wearing plenty of layers rather than one thick one helps to keep us warm, so make sure your elderly loved one does just that. If they need support to get dressed make sure they get it, this may be even more important than normal during cold weather. Remember they may be able to put on loose fitting single layers suitable for the summer but putting on lots of tight fitting layers may not be quite as easy.
Maintain a healthy and balanced diet
We need a balanced diet all year round but especially when the weather is cold, our body will use a lot of calories up staying warm. You might want to have smaller more regular meals and should always try and have something warming at every meal. For example tins of soup can be easy to prepare, provide a good balanced meal and get something warm into you with little effort.
It may be a good idea to have microwave meals in the freezer so that if supplies can’t get in you can still eat wholesome and tasty warming meals.
Provide company during cold weather
Sometimes the weather will be too bad to go out, and dark short winter days can be lonely for elderly people on their own. Pay a visit and make sure they are OK. Spend some time together, even just watching TV or playing a game. If you cannot visit them as much as you want to, a care worker could provide the human company required to get through the winter.
Take reasonable precautions in case of power cuts
If there is a power cut it is often too late to then start dealing with the challenges that present themselves. A couple of simple precautions may make the difference between how damaging the impact of a power cut is.
- Have torches on hand that can be easily found in the dark, many can remain on permanent charge and start flashing when the power goes out. Also make sure you have one in each room, you don’t want to be upstairs in the bedroom and your only torch downstairs in the kitchen
- Be very careful of using candles, the fire brigade dealt with nearly 1,800 house fires last year caused by candles.
- Keep mobile phones full charged so you don’t end up cut off.
- Be aware if your heating is electric you may lose it but also sometimes gas central heating is powered by mains electricity and you may lose it even if your gas supply remains. Discuss with your family a suitable plan for your specific circumstances.
- If you do lose your heating put on additional clothing or blankets, do this before you get cold rather than after you are cold as it may be very difficult to warm up in a cold house.
- Have high calorific foods available that don’t need cooking, like chocolate and sweets.