General Tips and Advice
• Have your heating system serviced and your chimney swept, or ask your landlord to do this if it’s their responsibility.
• If you have wood-burning, coal or gas heaters, make sure there’s adequate ventilation. Never block air vents, and get your boiler serviced every 12 months by a gas engineer.
• Check with your energy supplier for further advice to help you prepare for winter.
• 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 get it replaced.
• Have your electric blanket serviced – this should be done at least every three years.
• Make sure that your smoke alarm is working. You can ask your local fire service to check your home for fire safety. It’s free and you may be eligible to get free smoke alarms fitted.
• Make sure you claim all the financial support you can to help with heating bills. Contact us if you need advice on this.
• Install an audible carbon monoxide alarm in each room that has a gas appliance.
• Dress in plenty of layers and make sure that you have some warm shoes or boots with non-slip soles.
• 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, if you or someone else can pick them up. Otherwise you could try a local DIY store.
• Consider fitting a grab rail if you have steps at your front or back door. Ask us for more information.
• Keep simple cold, flu and sore throat remedies in the house. Your pharmacist can make suggestions and also advise you on how to manage minor illnesses.
• Follow up your GP’s invitation to have a flu jab.
• Order repeat prescriptions in plenty of time, particularly if bad weather is forecast.
• Ask your local pharmacy if they offer a prescription pick-up and delivery service – this could be helpful if you can’t leave your home.
• Keep basic food items in the cupboard or freezer in case it’s too cold to go shopping. You could also do your food shopping online and get it delivered to your door.
• Eat healthily and keep as active as possible.
• Ask your family, neighbours or friends if they could call or visit you more often if a period of cold weather stops you getting out and about.
• Keep a battery-operated radio, torch and spare batteries handy in case severe weather causes a temporary power cut. Keep your mobile phone, laptop or tablet fully charged, so you can use the battery power if there’s no electricity.
• Keep a list of emergency numbers, such as your utility companies, by your phone.
Cold weather means the beginning of the flu season and can cause particular difficulties if you have breathing and circulation problems. To help you stay well, it’s important to keep warm at home and outdoors, follow as healthy a lifestyle as you can, and have a flu jab.
Staying active is not only essential for your general wellbeing 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, make yourself a warm drink and spread any chores throughout the day. Chair-based exercises are helpful if walking is difficult, along with moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes.
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. Include a good range of foods in your diet and aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, so that you’re getting plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Remember that frozen vegetables are as good as fresh. It’s important to eat enough, especially in winter. If you’re worried about a poor appetite, speak to your GP. Having a hot drink before bed and keeping one in a flask by your bedside are good ideas too.
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 a radiator or other source of heat. If you suffer from these, dab the swellings with calamine or witch hazel to reduce itching, but don’t scratch them as this could cause an infection.
To help prevent chilblains, keep your whole body warm at all times – have a look at the tips on the pages that follow. Wear trousers, socks or thick tights and a scarf, hat and gloves whenever you go out in the cold. Speak to your pharmacist for advice on treating chilblains and to your GP if you get them regularly or have diabetes.
Keep Your Spirits Up
It’s not unusual to feel a bit down in winter – particularly when the days are short and it can get dark by 3.30pm. Try to keep to your usual routine and if you can’t visit friends or family, make sure that you phone them regularly for a chat. It helps to do something you enjoy every day. If possible, go for a short walk in the middle of the day, if it’s not too cold, or at least go outside while there is daylight. If you feel down for several weeks and it’s stopping you going out, making you feel listless and lacking in energy, it’s very important to share these feelings with someone, perhaps a friend or your GP.
Keeping Your Home Warm
Most of us spend a lot of time indoors in winter, so it’s important that you are comfortable and safe there. And it’s essential that you keep your home warm. Low temperatures increase the risk of flu and other respiratory problems and can raise blood pressure. Blood pressure takes longer to return to normal in older people after being out in the cold and this puts us at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. The colder your home, the higher the risk to your health.
• The recommended temperature for your main living room is around 70°F/21°C, and the rest of the house should be heated to at least 64°F/18°C.
• 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, make sure they’re set at the right temperature in the rooms where you spend time.
• Close the curtains at dusk and fit thermal linings if you can. This will keep the heat in.
• Put guards on open fires, and be careful not to hang washing too close to the fire.
• Don’t block up air vents, as fires and heaters need ventilation. Good ventilation also helps to prevent condensation. Test your carbon monoxide alarms. If you don’t have any alarms, you need to get one fitted in each room that has a gas appliance, as there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if air vents become blocked.
Keeping Warm Indoors and Out
You’re at risk of a heart attack, a stroke or even hypothermia if you’re exposed to a cold environment for a long time, or to extreme cold for only a short time.
• Keep your bedroom window closed at night when the weather is cold. Low temperatures raise blood pressure which takes longer to return to normal in older people. This puts you at greater risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
• Make sure you keep your hands and face warm. If they get cold they can trigger a rise in blood pressure which puts you at risk of a heart attack. 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 the air you breathe.
• Several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer, as the layers trap warm air. Clothes made from wool or fleecy synthetic fibres such as polyester are a better choice than cotton. Start with thermal underwear, warm tights or socks.
• If you’re sitting down, a shawl or blanket will provide a lot of warmth. Try to keep your feet up, as the air is cooler at ground level.
• Wear warm clothes in bed. When very cold, wear thermal underwear, bed socks and even a hat – a lot of heat is lost through your head.
• Use a hot-water bottle or an electric blanket to warm the bed, but never use the two together as this can be dangerous. 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. Get it 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 (they may charge). If you have any continence difficulties, talk to your doctor before using one.
• Don’t sit or stand outside for long periods, as you’ll quickly get cold. As we get older, it’s harder to notice if our body temperature is dropping and it takes longer to warm up.
• 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 type of boots keep you safe if the ground is slippery and keep your feet warm.
• If you get wet when you’re outside, change into dry clothes as soon as you go back indoors.
• Check local news and weather forecasts for advice when bad weather is forecast, or visit the Met Office website at www.metoffice.gov.uk.
What Extra Money Could I be Eligible For?
Many of us worry about rising fuel costs, so it’s important to make sure you’re not missing out on any benefits or discounts you’re entitled to that will help you keep your home warm.
Most people born before 5th January 1952 are entitled to the Winter Fuel Payment in 2013/14 to help with heating costs. This is a tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 paid to you between November and December. Previous recipients should get the payment automatically, but if this is the first year that you are eligible, contact the Winter Fuel Payments helpline to ensure that you don’t miss out.
If you receive Pension Credit, or certain other 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.
You may be entitled to a Warm Home Discount on your electricity bill if you receive Pension Credit or if you’re on a low income. It’s a one-off discount usually made between October and March. Check with your energy supplier or ask us. Find out more at www.gov.uk/the-warm-home-discount-scheme
Heating Your Home Efficiently
Energy prices are high at the moment, but heating your home is easier and cheaper if it is well insulated and your heating works properly.
• Draught-proof doors and windows, insulate the loft, lag the hot-water tank and pipes, and consider getting cavity-wall insulation. These measures will help to keep your home warm and your bills down – and you may be able to get financial help to put them in place. The Energy Saving Trust or Home Heat Helpline can advise you.
• Have your heating system serviced each year and check that it’s working before the cold weather starts. Gas heating must be serviced by a Gas Safe-registered engineer – ask to see their Gas Safe ID card, or note down their licence card number. Visit the Gas Safe Register website or call the free helpline to find out how to check their licence, or to find a registered engineer in your area.
• Ask your energy supplier about their Priority Services Register, a service for older and disabled people. Services include the option of having bills in Braille or large-print text and (if you meet certain criteria) free annual gas safety checks and alternative facilities for cooking and heating if your energy supply is interrupted.