Winter Wrapped Up

Winter Wrapped Up

Winter Wrapped Up

A guide to keeping warm and well this winter to ensure that you still enjoy the weather.

Information and advice you need to help you love later life. We’re Age UK and our goal is to enable older people to love later life.

We are passionate about affirming that your later years can be fulfilling years. Whether you’re enjoying your later life or going through tough times, we’re here to help you make the best of your life.

This information guide has been prepared by The Leading Care Company and contains general advice only, it should not be relied on as a basis for any decision or action and cannot be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. The Leading Care Company Neither nor any companies mentioned in this article accepts any liability arising from its use and it is the reader’s sole responsibility to ensure any information is up to date and accurate.

This article about Winter Wrapped Up cover the following

  • What this guide is about
  • Preparing for winter
  • Staying safe and healthy
  • Myth-busting
  • Keeping yourself warm
  • Keeping your home warm
  • Extra help with heating costs
  • Heating your home efficiently
  • Additional services
  • Helpful telephone numbers
  • Useful organizations

What this guide is about

Winter isn’t everyone’s favorite season and there’s no doubt that cold weather can be a worry for those of us in later life. As we get older, our bodies respond differently to the cold and this can leave us more vulnerable. Keeping warm both inside and outside your home can help reduce your risk of serious health problems that are more common in the colder months, such as chest infections, heart attacks, and strokes.

This guide explains what you can do to get yourself and your home ready for winter, as well as where to go for more information and support.

This guide is applicable across England, Berkshire, and Slough. In Berkshire and Slough contact Age Berkshire, for their versions of this guide.

Preparing for winter

Getting ready for the cold weather – which can start as early as October – means that you’re more likely to keep warm and well. Here are some things you can do to make sure that you stay safe and ward off the winter chills.

Get your home winter ready

  • Get your heating system serviced every year to make sure it’s running safely and efficiently. Gas heating must be serviced by a qualified Gas safe-registered engineer. If you’re a tenant, your landlord should check your gas heating system and appliances at least once a year.
  • See our free guide Save energy, pay less for tips on insulating and draught-proofing your home. You could also check with your energy supplier to see whether they have further advice to help you prepare for winter.
  • Make sure you claim all the financial support you can to help with heating bills. Your local Age UK can advise you.

Prepare for freezing temperatures

  • If water pipes freeze they can burst, so you need to be able to turn off the water at the main stopcock. Make sure you know where your main stopcock is and check that it’s easy to turn. If it’s jammed, you may need to replace it.
  • Keep extra food items in the cupboard or freezer in case it’s too cold to go shopping. You could do your food shopping online and get it delivered to your door.
  • Keep a mixture of salt and sand handy to put on steps or paths in icy weather. Some councils provide free bags of the mix or try a local DIY store.
  • If you’re worried about walking your dog in icy weather, contact The Cinnamon Trust. They may be able to match you with a dog-walking volunteer in your area.

Plan ahead for your health

  • Make sure you have a yearly flu jab. It’s free if you’re aged 65 and over, or if you’re a carer or have certain long-term conditions.
  • Order repeat prescriptions in plenty of time, particularly if bad weather is forecast. Ask your local pharmacy if it offers a prescription pick-up and delivery service.
  • Keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies in the house. Your pharmacist can make suggestions and advise you on how to manage minor illnesses.

Stay safe

  • Make sure your smoke alarm is working. You can ask your local fire service for a free home fire safety check. You may be eligible to get free smoke alarms fitted.
  • Install an audible carbon monoxide alarm in each room that has a gas or solid-fuel burning appliance. If you’re a private tenant, your landlord must install carbon monoxide alarms and smoke alarms for you.
  • Ask your family or friends if they could call or visit you more often if there’s an extended period of cold weather.
  • Keep a torch handy in case you lose power and keep your radio, mobile phone, laptop or tablet fully charged.

Staying safe and healthy

If you’re exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or to extreme cold for only a short time, your blood pressure rises which means you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

To help you stay well, it’s important to keep warm, follow as healthy a lifestyle as you can, and have a flu jab. To find out more about following a healthy lifestyle see our free guides Healthy living and healthy eating.

Keep moving
Staying active is not only essential for your general well-being and fitness it also generates heat and helps to keep you warm. When you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour. Get up and walk around and spread out any chores throughout the day. If walking is difficult you can do chair-based exercises while sitting or holding on to the back of a chair. Even moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes can help you keep warm. You can watch videos online that demonstrate chair-based exercises by visiting the NHS Choices website.

Eat well
Hot meals and drinks help to keep you warm, so eat at least one hot meal each day and have hot drinks during the day. Having a hot drink before going to bed and keeping one in a flask by your bedside are good ideas. Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so that you’re getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Frozen vegetables are as good as fresh. It’s important to eat enough, especially in winter. Not eating enough and becoming underweight is bad for your health as it makes it more difficult to keep warm and fight infections. If you’re worried about a poor appetite or losing weight, speak to your GP.

Keep warm
Even when temperatures don’t seem extreme, cold weather can make you more vulnerable to some illnesses, so it’s vital that you stay warm during the cold winter months. Read the sections ‘Keeping yourself warm’ and ‘Keeping your home warm’ to find out more.

Have a seasonal flu jab
If you’re aged 65 and over, the Government recommends that you have a flu jab. Flu viruses are always changing, so you need a jab every year, using the latest vaccine. Flu isn’t only unpleasant, it can also develop into pneumonia, which can be serious.

The flu jab is free to people aged 65 and over and also to carers and people under 65 who have conditions that make them susceptible to complications if they have flu. Ask your GP or pharmacist if you think you’re eligible.

It takes up to 10 days for the vaccine to take effect, so it’s best to have it as early as possible – most surgeries and pharmacists start to offer it in September or October. Your vaccinated arm may be sore, or you may have a slight temperature or aching muscles for a few days, but other side effects are rare.

Check you’ve had a ‘pneumo’ jab
The ‘pneumo’ (or pneumococcal) jab is a one-off vaccination that helps protect you against pneumonia, meningitis, and septicemia (a type of blood poisoning). Ask your GP about it if you’re aged 65 and over, and haven’t had one.

Have good hand hygiene
Good hand hygiene is a simple way to prevent the spread of colds and flu. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and clean surfaces such as your telephone, door handles, and keyboard to get rid of germs. Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Consider taking a vitamin D supplement
Our bodies create vitamin D from sunlight when we’re outdoors. We need it for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. During the winter months in the UK, the sun isn’t strong enough for our bodies to make vitamin D, and it’s difficult to get the amount we need from food alone. You might want to speak to your GP to discuss taking a supplement to boost your levels in winter.

Give up smoking

Protect yourself against chilblains
Chilblains are itchy, red swellings that occur when your skin gets cold and you try to warm up too quickly, often by sitting close to open fire, a radiator or heater. Dab the swellings with calamine or witch hazel to reduce itching, but don’t scratch them as this could cause an infection. Speak to your pharmacist for advice on treating chilblains and see your GP if you get chilblains regularly or have diabetes.

To help prevent chilblains, keep your whole body warm at all times. Wear trousers, socks or thick tights and a scarf, hat, and gloves whenever you go out in the cold.

Get a personal alarm
If you fall or you’re unwell, a personal alarm connects you to a 24-hour call center. You press a button on a pendant you wear around your neck or as a wrist band and talk to someone who will contact a chosen person to help you – usually a neighbor, friend or relative – or the emergency services.

Take care when driving
If you absolutely have to drive in bad weather, make sure you allow extra time for your journey. Tell someone your destination and when you expect to arrive there. Always charge your mobile phone fully before you set off and make sure you take warm clothes, boots, food, water, a torch and a spade in case you need them.

Keep your spirits up

It helps to do something you enjoy every day. If you can and it’s not too cold, go for a short walk in the middle of the day, or at least go outside while there is daylight. There may be local classes or social groups you can attend. Check your local community center or library noticeboard or contact your local Age UK to find out what opportunities there are in your area.

If you feel down for several weeks and it’s stopping you from going out or making you feel lethargic and lacking in energy, it’s very important to share these feelings with someone, perhaps a friend or your GP. For more information see our free guide Your mind matters

Keeping yourself warm

Even if it isn’t a severe winter, cold weather makes us more vulnerable to certain illnesses. Follow these tips to stay healthy, and keep warm indoors and out.

Keeping warm indoors

  • If you’re sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Try to keep your feet propped up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
  • Wear warm clothes in bed and, when it’s very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks, and even a hat – you lose a lot of heat through your head.
  • Use a hot-water bottle, wheat bag or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use a hot-water bottle and an electric blanket together.
  • Check whether your electric blanket can be kept on all night or whether it’s only designed to warm the bed before you get in. If you have any continence difficulties, talk to your doctor before using one.
  • Get your electric blanket checked every three years by an expert. Local trading standards departments often offer free testing or you can ask at the shop where you bought the blanket, though they may charge you for this.

Keeping warm outdoors

  • Make sure you keep your hands and face warm. As well as wearing gloves and a hat, always wrap a scarf around your face when you go out in cold weather, even for short intervals. This helps to warm up the air you breathe in. If your hands and face get cold this can cause a rise in blood pressure, which puts you at risk of a heart attack.
  • Several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air between them. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or wool socks.
  • Keep your feet warm. As with your hands and face, cold feet can trigger a potentially dangerous rise in blood pressure. Choose boots with non-slip soles and a warm lining, or wear thermal socks. These boots not only keep your feet warm, but they also keep you safe if the ground is slippery.
  • Check local news and weather reports for advice when bad weather is forecast.

Keeping your home warm

Most of us spend a lot of time indoors in winter, so it’s important you are comfortable and safe there. It’s essential to keep your home warm.

Low temperatures increase the risk of flu and other breathing problems and can raise blood pressure. When you’re older, your blood pressure takes longer to return to normal once you’re cold, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The colder your home, the higher the risk to your health.

Keeping your home at a safe temperature

  • Keep your main living room around 21°C/70°F, and the rest of your home heated to at least 18°C/64°F. You can use the thermometer included in this guide to check your room temperature. If you still feel cold, turn the heat up regardless of what the thermometer reads.
  • Keep your bedroom window closed at night when the weather is cold. The coldest time of the day is just before dawn.
  • Close the curtains at dusk to keep the heat in and fit thermal linings to them if you can.

Using your heating controls

  • Get to know how the timer and thermostat on your heating system work. If it’s very cold, set the timer to switch the heating on earlier, rather than turning the thermostat up to warm your house quickly.
  • If you have individual thermostats on your radiators, set them at higher temperatures in the rooms where you spend more time. For more information about how to understand your heating controls, see our free guide Save energy, pay less.

Heating your home safely

  • Put guards on open fires, and don’t hang washing too close to the fire.
  • Don’t block up air vents as fires and heaters need good ventilation, which also helps to prevent condensation.
  • Test your carbon monoxide alarms. You can’t see, taste or smell carbon monoxide, but low exposure can cause long-term health problems, while high exposure can cause poisoning. You should have an alarm in each room that has a gas or solid-fuel burning appliance, as these can give off carbon monoxide if they’re not working properly or if air vents become blocked. If you’re a private tenant, your landlord must install carbon monoxide alarms for you.

Getting help with heating costs

Extra help with heating costs

Many of us worry about rising fuel costs. It’s important to make sure you’re not missing out on any benefits or discounts you’re entitled to that will help you to keep your home warm.

Winter Fuel Payment
Most people born before 5 August 1953 are entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment in 2017–18 to help with heating costs. This is a tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 paid to you between November and December. If you’ve received the payment before you should get it automatically this year, but if this is the first year that you’re eligible, contact the Winter Fuel Payment helpline to make sure that you don’t miss out.

Cold Weather Payment
If you receive Pension Credit or other income-related benefits, you’re automatically paid a Cold Weather Payment when the temperature is at 0°C/32°F or below for seven days in a row.

Warm Home Discount
You may be entitled to a Warm Home Discount on your electricity bill if you receive the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit or if you’re on a low income. It’s a one-off discount on your energy bill, usually made between October and April. If you have a prepayment electricity meter, you can receive the discount as a voucher to top up your meter. Check with your energy supplier or ask an advice agency such as Age UK. Find out more at Gov.uk.

Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme

Switching energy supplier
Check your current energy tariff and shop around to see if you can get a better deal. See our free guide Save energy, pay less and our factsheet Switching energy supplier for more information.

What to do if you can’t pay your bill
Contact your energy supplier if you’re having trouble paying your bills. Companies should not disconnect all-pensioner households during the winter months. You may be able to set up a repayment plan or have a prepayment meter installed.

Heating your home efficiently

Energy prices are high at the moment, but it’s cheaper and easier to heat your home if it’s well insulated and your heating works properly.

Insulation and draught-proofing

Check your heating system
Have your heating system serviced each year and check that it’s working before the cold weather starts. If you’re a tenant, your landlord should check your gas heating system and appliances for safety at least once a year.

Gas heating must be serviced by a Gas safe-registered engineer – ask to see their Gas Safe ID card, or note down their license-card number. Visit the Gas Safe Register website or call the free helpline to find out how to check their license, or to find a registered engineer in your area.

Additional services

Energy suppliers and distribution network operators have Priority Services Registers for people who need extra help. This could be because you’re over pension age or living with a long-term health condition or disability. You might need support temporarily following an injury or illness. If you sign up for priority services you could get extra help and support, such as a password scheme to protect you from cold callers and support if there’s a power cut, such as regular updates

You pay your gas and electricity bills to your energy supplier, and your distribution network operator is the company in charge of the supply to your area. Contact the Energy Networks Association to find out who your network operator is.

To make sure you get as many services as possible you should join both your supplier’s register and your distribution network operator’s register, as they may offer different services.

Helpful telephone numbers

  • Gas supplier ………………………………………………………………………………………………
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  • Electricity supplier …………………………………………………………………………………
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  • Water supplier …………………………………………………………………………………………
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  • Plumber ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….
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  • My local pharmacy ……………………………………………………………………………….
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  • My GP practice ………………………………………………………………………………………..
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  • My local Age UK ……………………………………………………………………………………..
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  • Other ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
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