62% of older people have had to cut back on heating or powering their home recently to make ends meet. 57% (9.3 million) of people aged 60 and over are worried about very cold weather.
This is shaping up to be a true winter from hell for many older people, because of the multiple threats to their health and wellbeing. Covid-19 and other nasty winter bugs are circulating widely, and now, to cap it all, really cold temperatures are about to set in, at a time when we know lots of pensioners have been trying to reduce their energy usage in order to control their bills. And that’s not to mention the impact of strikes on public services and the possibility of energy black outs further down the track.
With so many problems to worry about, Age UK is appealing to the public to keep supporting the older people in their lives and to stay in touch to ensure they are managing to keep warm and eat well, despite soaring prices.
Age UK’s most recent research into how people aged 60 and over were feeling about the coming winter showed:
- 54% of older people (8.8 million) say the cost-of-living increase will affect their health and care needs.
- 52% of older people (8.5 million) are concerned or very concerned about winter.
- 57% (9.3 million) are worried about very cold weather
In particular, of the people who took part in the survey:
- 20% of older people (3.3 million) are worried that they will not be able to eat enough.
- 45% of older people (7.4 million) are worried that they won’t be able to heat their home enough.
With energy bills rocketing it is understandable that many older people might think they have no option but to turn their heating off this winter. In fact, polling showed that 62% of older people have had to cut back on heating or powering their home recently to make ends meet. However, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can have a substantial impact on older people’s health.
As we get older it becomes harder for our bodies to regulate temperature, and it takes longer to warm up as we lose muscle mass. Our immune systems become weaker, and symptoms of health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and arthritis can be worsened by the cold. The cold also impacts on the heart and circulatory system increasing risks of heart attacks and strokes. People with mental health conditions or dementia, which may reduce a person’s ability to look after themselves, can also be at more risk from the cold weather.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said: ‘We know that rising energy prices will put nearly a third of older households in fuel poverty this winter, meaning older people in approaching 3 million homes will be worrying about how to keep warm as temperatures plummet this week.
‘Unfortunately increases in the cost of living are coming hard on the heels of the pandemic, which severely undermined the health and wellbeing of many older people. And now some are telling us they simply don’t know how they will get through the difficult months to come. This really is shaping up to be a winter from hell.
‘During the winter older people are likely to spend more time at home than other age groups and are much more susceptible to the effects of the cold, particularly if they have pre-existing medical conditions. That’s why it’s so important that they can adequately heat their homes, helping them to stay well.
‘The winter can have an adverse impact on older people’s mental health too. Darker, shorter days and less socialising place older people at greater risk of loneliness and isolation, which in turn can cause new mental health conditions like anxiety and depression to develop, as well as exacerbating any existing ones.
‘So as winter bites it is important to take action to protect yourself if you are an older person, and it’s a reminder to the rest of us to look out for the older people in our lives.’
Age UK received some of the heart-breaking responses to the survey where older people said:
- ‘I don’t turn on lights or heating. I sit in the dark at night. This will have a marked effect when the weather gets colder, and the nights get longer.’
- ‘Honestly. My hot water is linked to my heating, and I have been without hot water for the last two months. I wash up in cold water, take a quick shower once a week and have no heating. I really worry about putting the heating on, although I’ve been cold. I’ve stayed in bed some days…all day, just to keep warm.’
- ‘I need and would like to have help but can’t afford it. I need and would like to buy food to help me with my medical problems but can’t afford it. I need and would like to go to a lunch club but can’t afford the transport or other expenses involved.’
Top tips for looking after health this winter
Over winter it can be harder to look after your health. Supporting the older people in your life to stay well can make a big difference.
- Everyone aged 50+ is eligible for a Covid-19 and flu jab this winter so make sure you get yours as soon as you are offered. Also check which other vaccines you may be eligible for such as shingles (65+) or pneumococcal (70-79).
- Support and encourage the people in your life to keep moving around at home or take up simple indoor exercises, especially if they can’t get out and about as usual. Keeping moving is a good way of keeping warm too. For advice for all abilities visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/exercise/
- Eating well is important to keep someone’s strength up, and hot food and drinks will help stay warm. For top tips on supporting someone at risk of malnutrition: www.malnutritiontaskforce.org.uk/eating-well
- Regularly washing your hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to stop germs spreading. It’s a good idea to keep some hand sanitiser with you when you’re out and about, too.
- Wearing plenty of layers is a good way to keep warm in winter. If you’re heading out, make sure you take some extra layers, even if you don’t need them immediately.
- Make sure the heating is on to reach a comfortable level high enough to stay warm at home. Only heating the rooms you use, turning off radiators in rooms you don’t, and closing doors the doors will help save energy. Closing curtains when it gets dark is also a good way to keep rooms warmer and draft free. If you are concerned about unaffordable energy bills Age UK may be able to suggest additional sources of help. Call on 0800 678 1602.
- If you are feeling down or out of sorts, chat to someone or contact your GP.
- Keeping our minds active is a great way to support our wellbeing – whatever we enjoy by the way of hobbies and interests. Supporting someone to carry on with the activities they enjoy is a great way to stay mentally active.
- If you are worried about your health, contact your local pharmacist, 111, or your GP who will all be able to offer advice and support. In an emergency dial 999.
- It’s important that your home is also ready for winter and to keep you warm so have your heating and cooking appliances checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer to make sure they are working safely.
Make sure the older people in your life know you’re there for them this winter
- Staying in touch can make a big difference to the older people in your life. A phone call or online chat, or sending a card or gift are all great ways to help lift all our spirits.
- Offer a hand around the home or collecting shopping or medication, particularly if someone is isolated or worried about going out.
- Give out these useful numbers: For practical information and advice, Age UK Advice: 0800 169 65 65. For a cheerful chat, day or night, The Silver Line Helpline: 0800 4 70 80 90
It’s important that you check that you are getting all the financial support available to you. This winter there is additional support in place for everyone and also specific support which some older people will be eligible for. You can find more information on Age UK’s website here or call the Age UK helpline on 0800 169 65 65. There is also more detailed information available on this Help with heating costs factsheet.
If you contact your water and power suppliers, you may be eligible to be on the Priority Services Register, a free support service that helps people in vulnerable situations.
Helping Age UK to help older people this and every winter
Winter and the festive period can be one of the toughest and most challenging times of year for older people. Age UK’s support services, including the Charity’s free and confidential advice line and telephone friendship services, become invaluable lifelines for older people who have no one else to turn to. But Age UK needs urgent funds so it can continue to be there for older people and their families. To donate please visit: www.ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/donate.