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Effects of the winter cold on our elderly

elderly keeping warm

We were  shocked to learn that 25,000 people could die prematurely from the cold this winter.  That is 200 preventable deaths a day!  I found that quite shocking and it made me want to investigate.

Stats from Age UK

  • The average daily excess winter deaths for people aged 65+ in England and Wales is 210 people per day
  • There is a strong relationship between poor insulation and heating of houses, low indoor temperature and excess winter deaths of older people
  • Age UK has calculated that cold homes cost the NHS in England more than £1.36 billion every year
  • Nearly 1 million people aged 65 and over have had to cut back on food shopping over recent years to cover the cost of utility bills.
  • There are 15 times more excess winter deaths each year than road traffic fatalities.
  • Hypothermia is rare, but heart attacks, stroke and respiratory illness are the largest causes of excess winter deaths

I assumed that countries that have cold winters would naturally have excess winter deaths from their elderly community but that’s not the case. Surprising much colder countries have much lower death rates in winter than the UK.  The coldest city in the world is Yakutsk in Siberia where temperatures can reach -60 at there lowest. However there are generally no excess winter deaths there.

Why is this?

In 1993 a group of scientists were on a mission to undercover the story of winter deaths in Europe so went to Siberia. They discovered that the residents in Russia dress appropriately and are never cold in winter. Furs, hats and gloves and plenty of layers keep the Russians warm and they stay indoors in extreme temperatures. Temperatures can hit -60 in the coldest winters.

The evidence suggests that the deaths in the UK are due to not wrapping up enough when outside and allowing low temperatures inside buildings. These are the reasons our elderly get ill health due to the cold weather in the UK.

Professor Bill Keatinge was one of the scientists who went to Siberia and has wrote extensively on the subject of cold-related ill-health in the UK.  He emphasized “brief excursions outdoors rather than low indoor temperatures” are routes whereby cold impacts on health, and thus the importance of outdoor clothing and behavior.

So it seems we are just not prepared when it comes to cold weather.  It’s a bit like when we get snow, the country is on hold while we deal with it, we are never prepared enough.  We need to educate our elderly so they understand the risks when they don’t wrap up well enough. They need to dress more appropriately when out and about.  Hats, scarfs, gloves and plenty of layers need to be worn when venturing out.

One big problem our country has is expensive utility bills.  According to the Telegraph, more than 60% of people will ration their heating this winter over fears of extra high energy costs. And as many as 42% said they would consider cutting back on food in order to be able to afford the cost of higher energy bills.

What this group of people don’t do but should do, is change energy supplier each year, as that is the only way to get the cheapest tariffs, but it seems many of the elderly are reluctant to do this.  This is where family members should step in and help.  James Padmore, head of energy insurance at comparethemarket.com said his firm’s research showed 65 to 79 year olds who changed energy provider saved on average £530, but that age group made up only nine per cent of those who switched.

Below are what the government offers for the elderly when the temperature drops:

Winter Fuel Payment

The winter fuel payment is an annual one-off payment to help you pay for heating during the winter. It  is eligible for anyone born on or before 5 January 1953 in the UK. You can get between £100 and £300.

Winter Fuel Payment – Click here for more information and How to Claim

Cold Weather Payments

Cold weather payments are one-off payments for when its very cold.  You have to be getting certain benefits and the temperature has to drop to below zero degrees celsius for 7 consecutive days. You’ll get £25 for each 7 day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March.

Cold Weather Payments – Click here for more information and How to Claim

Warm Home Discount Scheme

The Warm Home Discount Scheme is reliable for those on a low income and can be up to £140 off your electricity bill. This money isn’t paid to you but a one-off discount from your energy supplier.

Warm Home Discount Scheme – Click here for more information and How to Claim

Next I will be writing and article on how to switch your energy provider.

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