Preparing older people for the cold snap

By Lisa Anderson, LiveTime officer.

Lisa AndersonAge UK claims that each winter one elderly person will die needlessly, every seven minutes. This is a stark statistic, and I’m pleased to see the charity call on the government to improve energy efficiency and end fuel poverty, especially for older people.

In light of this shocking home truth, the services we provide to elderly tenants through LiveTime are more crucial than ever, especially throughout the winter months. Cold weather and treacherous conditions are literally life or death situations for the vulnerable and elderly. Working with our affordable warmth team, we refer older people to them for specialist advice, as well as offering support on a range of issues which affect their health and wellbeing during the winter months.

When indoor temperatures drop to below 16 °C the risk of flu, respiratory illnesses and raised blood pressure increases, while heart attacks, strokes and hypothermia can swiftly follow.

Many of our older clients don’t realise that we can help them claim winter fuel payments, if they were born before 1953, as well as cold weather payments for those claiming state benefits. We also help people apply for Warm Home Discounts, which can result in an additional £140 credit on electricity accounts.

During the cold weather many elderly people become increasingly housebound.

While staying indoors is a safer option, especially when footpaths are icy, it can lead to greater isolation. A visit from a LiveTime officer may be the only social interaction an elderly person has had in weeks, or even months. We can arrange hot meal deliveries and refer people to volunteer befriending services in the community, as well as finding out more about people’s specific needs throughout the winter months.

Icy conditions can be scary for the best of us, but for the elderly they can be fatal. Broken hips and knocks to the head and face can lead to hospitalisation and general loss of confidence. Making sure that salt and sand supplies are topped up on paths and driveways, and especially on steps, is a crucial part of our work at the coldest times of the year. We also assess properties for aids and adaptations, arranging for handrails and grab rails to be fitted outside properties.

Many elderly people are fiercely independent and will go out on the worst of wintery days, often for doctor, hospital or optician appointments, regardless of the ice and snow and howling winds.  We spend a lot of time encouraging people to request home GP and optician visits. And we can work with family or friends to arrange lifts to hospital, or other forms of direct transport.

Winter is a fantastic time to rekindle the creative hobbies that may have been forgotten. We encourage creative activities such as crosswords, knitting, cross stitch and even colouring books. These activities can improve mental health and motivation when winter months keep people indoors.

So while we are still enjoying relatively mild weather for November, the LiveTime team is already preparing our oldest and most vulnerable clients for a potential cold snap in the weeks leading up to Christmas and beyond.