Older adults very often need more support to maintain their core body temperature. With a thinner layer of fat under the skin, and the difficulties they face in being physically active, they are more susceptible to cold temperatures. On top of that, conditions common in elderly people, such as diabetes, stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s, peripheral artery disease and kidney disease can restrict blood flow and lower body temperature.

The risks associated with older people getting too cold include:

• Hypothermia: this occurs when body temperature drops below 35 degrees. It can lead to a complete failure in the heart and respiratory system.

• Respiratory disorders: cold air is very often dry air. When we inhale dry air, that fluid evaporates quicker than normal; often, quicker than it can be replaced. This causes the throat to become dry, and a dry throat leads to irritation and swelling which worsens the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

Cold weather also increases mucus production, but the mucus produced in cold conditions is thicker and stickier than usual. This causes blockages in the respiratory system and also increases the likelihood of catching a cold or other infections.

• Stroke: cold temperatures make blood vessels constrict, which can increase blood pressure and cause a stroke.

• Reduced strength: the cold results in muscles losing more heat, making them contract. This causes tightness throughout the body and muscles to lose their range of motion. That puts older people at greater risk of falling.

Tips

It’s easy to see why elderly people might be concerned about paying their bills. Older people can take these simple measures to cut back on their bills:

• Speak to your energy provider: Often, older people aren’t aware of discounts or offers available to them. It helps to give your energy provider a call and see if there are any options available to the elderly that can cut costs.

• Warm Homes: Age UK receives funding from energy suppliers through Ofgem’s industry initiative. In turn, Age UK funds local partners across England and Wales, who deliver the Warm Homes programme in their local area.

This targets those over the 65 years old who are at least one of the following:

  • on a low income (means-tested benefits or on an income below £16,190 per annum)
  • has a long-term health condition
  • lives in a ‘hard to heat home’.

Age UK also provides benefit entitlement checks to ensure older people aren’t missing out on what they can receive. In previous years they claimed £3000 on average for each older person that they assisted.
• Nesta’s boiler challenge: Nesta is a non-profit organisation that works to achieve social good. Recently, they launched a campaign to encourage people to reduce the flow temperature of their boilers to 60 degrees; a trick that saves energy usage without compromising on heat. An average household can save around £112 a year from their energy bill.

• Don’t make your fridge and freezer too cool: Some of us will find that our fridges and freezers are at a lower temperature than they need to be, adding to energy bills. According to the Food Standards Agency, fridges should be kept at 5 degrees and freezers at -18 degrees. Turn up the temperatures, while staying within the guidance, if they’re unnecessarily low.

• Don’t heat the whole home unnecessarily: Thermostatic radiator valves stop water through that particular radiator when the room reaches a certain temperature. It takes into account the temperature of other rooms in the house, not just where the main thermostat is, meaning that radiators don’t end up being any warmer than they need to be.

• Draught excluder: It’s a simple item, but draught excluders can work wonders to prevent any door draughts around the home. According to Money Saving Expert, it can cut 2.5% off energy bills.

• Fit a water-saving shower head: Don’t forget about items that prevent water usage, not just energy usage. A shower head that restricts the volume of water that flows through it, yet gives the sensation of a proper shower, knocks more off the utilities bills.

Once alterations have been made around the house to minimise energy bills, your older loved ones should look at what they can do day-to-day to maintain core body temperature. Here are some tips:

• Heat the person, not the home: Don’t forget about the simple items like thick socks and blankets which you can wear to prevent the risks that come with a cold home. Layering up with thermal undergarments such as vests is a great base layer, in addition to normal clothes. At night-time, a blanket underneath a duvet will add an extra layer of warmth and prevent somebody getting too cold. In the daytime and a flask filled with a hot drink by your side will help maintain warmth.

Caution is advised when using wheat bags and hot water bottles; if the rubber is old and thin, it can burst and scold the skin. Ensure that the product used isn’t old.

• Use an electric blanket or an electric throw: There was once a time when the safety of electric blankets was questionable. Thankfully, modern electric blankets are considered commonly safe when used correctly. It’s another item that older people can use to stay warm in bed. There is also a great range of affordable electric throws which can be used when sat on a chair or sofa to give an extra layer of warmth. These are cheap to run and generally cost a few pence per hour of use.

Get moving: Spending much of the day immobile, which is common for older people with difficulty being physically active, puts them at increased risk of getting too cold. Encourage your older loved one to do some gentle physical activities, whether that’s some light housekeeping or easy exercises. They can even do this sat on a chair if they are unable to stand safety. YouTube provides a good selection of exercises they can use as inspiration.