Keeping Warm: A health issue for older people
Seán Moynihan, CEO of ALONE
Keeping warm during cold weather is a health issue for older people and people with health difficulties. We know that cold homes are associated with increased need for medical attention and hospital admission. Health conditions that can be effected include respiratory and heart conditions, strokes, arthritis, minor illnesses like colds and flus, increased risk of accidents and injuries, and poor mental health.
While we know energy costs are high and over 100,000 older people are living in or at risk of poverty, we in ALONE and other organisations will provide practical support to older people who may be concerned about their bills this winter, and we would urge that everyone stays warm and safe in the coming week.
We know that the number of expected deaths rises in the winter months according to the CSO data. We also know that in countries like Ireland where we have an ageing population, that there is a greater risk of more people suffering adversely from the colder weather. We also know that 57% of older people live in the least energy efficient, BER EFG rated homes. Cold homes and excess winter death from cold weather are an avoidable public health epidemic.
In a survey that we carried out in August, 92% of respondents (our older people) said they were worried about the cost of energy and 80% of people in a recent RED C research poll said they were planning to go without energy at some point over the winter. It is incumbent on us to make sure that energy poverty and fear of costs does not lead to older people developing critical illnesses this winter.
We are asking the public to share their warmth with older people this winter, to some this means volunteering or donating but to others it can be as simple as checking in to say ‘hello’ on those in our community who may appreciate the support.
As an organisation, we are seeing more and more older people reporting concern and worry around energy prices. Fear about how much the energy bill is going to be should not stop older people from keeping their homes sufficiently warm. Preventing ill health and protecting the vulnerable is the priority during cold weather snaps. There are supports available for those who are struggling with the cost on energy and bills in general, and we encourage older people or anyone who knows an older person who needs our help to reach out and share the warmth.
There is the possibility of this kind of weather recurring across the rest of the winter, so it is important to be aware of the key tips for older people during these periods of extremely cold weather:
- Keep the heating on in their home, especially in the rooms that they use the most.
- Eat and drink hot food and beverages to stay warm, perhaps even using the microwave if there is a concern around energy efficiency.
- Wear more than one layer of clothing to stay warm.
- Avoid making journeys that involve going outdoors to avoid slippery walkways.
- If you are going outside for fresh air, check and salt the path to avoid falling.
- Any fall that you experience, no matter how big or small, report it to healthcare professionals.
- If you are using an electric blanket check for signs of wear and tear, if it is old and damaged do not use it in any circumstances.
- Keep in touch with friends and family to let them know if you need any practical support such as picking up medicines, fuel and groceries.
If you have concerns or need support, you can call ALONE on 0818 222 024, seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. We are calling on all members of the public to remember their older neighbours living alone and to consider their needs; if there is anything you think you can help with, no matter how small, do reach out to them. It could make a world of difference to an older person during a challenging time.
ALONE is a national organisation that enables older people to age at home. Our work is for all older people and aims to improve physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. We have a National network of staff and volunteers who provide an integrated system of Support Coordination, Practical Supports, Befriending, a variety of Phone Services, Social Prescribing, Housing with Support and Assistive Technology. We use individualised support plans, to address health, financial benefits and supports, social care, housing, transport and other arising needs using technology and harness other services.