As we head into the colder months of the year, the risks that elderly people face can rise significantly. Whether it is closely linked to the weather or as a consequence of other factors, we need to be aware of these risks and do what we can to help to protect our older generation from potential harm during the winter.
The first step to being able to reduce the risks is to be aware of them, and from there we can then go on to work out what we can do to reduce them as well as how to help if you find an elderly person in difficulty.
One of the most obvious winter risks is the cold. Elderly people are more at risk for a number of reasons, including the fact that they are less mobile, often eat less and are often concerned about spending extra money on heating. Try to wear layers of clothes, especially on cold days, and as a lot of heat is lost through your head, a hat is a great option.
It can be useful to check that the heating is working properly before it starts to get cold, giving you time to fix it if need be. The heating should be set to at least 18°C.
Hypothermia can be a big problem for older people and is something that we should all be aware of. Experts at CQC accredited care providers, Helping Hands state that “Hypothermia is a dangerous condition that requires emergency assistance, and the initial symptoms may include:
- Pale, cold skin
- Feeling tired
- Showing signs of confusion
- Speech becoming slurred
- Rapid breathing”
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature goes below 35°C – 95°F (with the normal body temperature being about 37°C – 98.6°F) and must be treated quickly. When someone becomes hypothermic it also effects the blood’s ability to clot and therefore wounds will bleed more and the bleeding will be harder to control.
If you find someone with hypothermia, be extremely careful how much you move them as the low body temperature can affect the stability of their heart and make them more prone to cardiac arrest. In cases of extreme concern, phone 999 and do your best to cover them and insulate them from the ground to try and retain any remaining body heat.
If they are able to be moved, very carefully:
- Take them inside or somewhere dry, warm and sheltered.
- Take off any wet clothing and dry the person.
- Wrap them in as many blankets as possible.
- If they can swallow normally give them a warm (non-alcoholic) drink.
- If they can swallow normally give them some food with sugar in it.
You should also remember NEVER to do the following as it can make things worse:
- Put the person in a hot bath
- Massage their limbs
- Give them alcohol
- Use heating lamps
A big problem amongst the elderly – both during the summer and the winter, is dehydration. It is an obvious thing in the summer, but when elderly people are in their homes – sometimes with the heating turned up, dehydration is just as possible. Many elderly people drink less to avoid the need to get up and go to the toilet, and that, alongside the ageing process means that dehydration can be a very serious issue.
The consequences of dehydration can be serious – often resulting in hospitalisation. Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Cracked lips
- Less frequent urination
- Dry skin, particularly in the armpits
More severe effects of dehydration include:
- Dark-coloured and strong-smelling urine
- Muscle Cramps
- Increased heart rate
- Crying without tears
Try to encourage loved ones to drink. If you find someone with severe dehydration try to get them to drink as much as you can but small sips at a time. If water doesn’t appeal, help them to choose a cordial or some herbal teas that they enjoy. Avoid caffeine and alcohol and call 111 if you think the dehydration is severe and you are concerned for their welfare. If they won’t drink, try giving them some foods with a high content of water – like fruits, vegetables and soups.
Loneliness is a common problem for elderly people, but during the winter this can become worse. With it being harder to go out – and often fewer people coming to visit, along with the general depressiveness of the winter months, loneliness can be a real problem.
Try to encourage wrapping up warm and going out – or maybe offering lifts to social events, encourage the use of telephones and staying connected that way and try to visit elderly friends, relatives and neighbours as much as possible. It is also important to encourage them to speak out if they are feeling down.
Falling over is much more likely during the winter due to slippery conditions. Encourage elderly people to be careful when they are out and about, dress appropriately, use sticks and frames if they need to, or accompany them to help them get out.
There is an abundance of extra risks for the elderly over the winter, and it is important to be aware of them – and what to do if something does happen. By knowing how to deal with issues we can help to reduce the impact of them and help our elderly loved ones to live as independent and happy a life as possible.
Written as a guest post by Rebecca Clark from the Guild of Health writers and adapted by Emma Hammett First Aid for Life
First Aid for Life provide award-winning first aid training for people of all ages and always tailor the training to the needs of those attending.
It is strongly advised that you complete an online or attend a practical first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Visit www.FirstAidforLife.org.uk, OnlineFirstAid.com or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.
First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.