Members and non-members joined us at our first meeting at Meeting Point House. On this occasion we invited people to take part in an interactive session about the importance of keeping warm through the cold winter months to maintain a good level of physical and mental wellbeing.
Sylvia Hearne, Forum Trustee, opened the discussion by explaining that there is a sharp rise in hospital admissions and deaths among older people over the winter months and invited everyone to discuss the following questions:
What is the body’s normal temperature?
The human body needs to maintain a temperature of 37 degrees centigrade, (98.6 degrees fahrenheit).
What is ‘hypothermia’?
Hypothermia is defined as abnormally body core temperature below 35 degrees.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
First signs are shivering as the body tries to create more heat. Your breathing becomes more rapid, your heart speeds up, blood pressure rises and you will feel dizzy and lightheaded. The body becomes tired, your speech slurs, you become disorientated, lose co-ordination and eventually pass out.
How does the body make heat and lose heat?
The cells in our body produce heat as they burn up energy.
Heat is lost through:
Radiation – heat passes from warm areas to colder areas, eg not wearing enough clothing.
Conduction – when we come into contact with colder surfaces, eg walking in the snow.
Evaporation- losing heat when we are wet or sweating, eg leaving the gym, or after swimming.
Convection – when heat is lost in the moving air, eg the wind chill factor.
The body diverts heat to the core organs to aid survival, so the extremities, particulary head, hands and feet become the coldest. Circulation is affected as vessels narrow, blood thickens and airways narrow.
Why does illness and mortality increase in cold weather?
Quite often, people don’t take sufficient care of themselves in colder weather, or perhaps have difficulty living in homes which are damp and hard to heat. Being unable to afford adequate heating, poor diet, limited exercise, increased alcohol intake, infection and chronic health conditions can also increase the risk of illness and death in cold weather. Cold and influenza viruses are prevalent.
How does getting older have an impact on this?
Older and more vulnerable people are at greater risk and perhaps less able to take the necessary precautions. They are often less active, and therefore lose muscle strength, and falls can occur. They may have poorer nutrition, especially those on their own who are less likely to cook a hot meal. Mood can be lower, as they may be lonely, remain immobile, forget to eat or take medication, and may think less logically. They may be worried about paying the bills or be less able to pay, so they don’t turn up their heating. They may struggle to understand bills, tariffs and switching providers, how to get their heating serviced or repaired or improve insulation in their home.
What medical conditions further increase the risk of mortality?
Certain conditions can affect body’s thermo-regulator, such as thyroid and endocrine problems, diabetes, and infections. Conditions common in older people such as COPD, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema can be made worse by the cold weather. The Immune system is lowered and influenza is a big killer – of all deaths, a third are due to chest infections. Heart attacks and strokes are often a reaction to sudden changes in temperature.
What can we do to reduce the risk of mortality during cold weather?
Take exercise or at least keep moving.
Eat adequate healthy food and drink plenty of fluids.
Wear enough clothes, layers are ideal and adequate outdoor clothing, warm socks, shoes, hat and gloves.
Keep your home warm, well heated, well maintained and insulated
Keep connected – have someone to regularly check on us or someone to contact if we have problems, maybe consider having a pendant alarm.
Get the flu jab – you are eligible for a free flu vaccine this year 2016-17, if you will be aged 65 and over on March 31 2017 –that is, you were born on or before March 31 1952. So, if you are currently 64 but will be 65 on March 31 2017, you do qualify. You can have your NHS flu jab at your GP surgery or a local pharmacy offering the service.
Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia.
Other providers present at the meeting offer the following:-
Walkababout Wrekin offers weekly walks , lasting 30 – 90 mins, to help keep fit and prevent ill health.
Be Active – are running new activity sessions in the Donnington, Malinslee and Dawley areas, including a new Mature Movers session and Walking Football.
Citizens Advice Telford can help people save money by switching tariffs or providers, take advantage of discounts, deal with complaints, debt and access available help with insulation, boilers etc.
Wrekin Housing Trust are now offering a low cost (£22.50 per hour) handyman service for anyone, any age. Tel
WATCH Alarms told attendees about a lady who’d had a fall in their garden last February, but because of her pendant alarm had received very quickly and her life had been saved.
Wrekin Housing Retirement Living manages schemes for older people, with well maintained, well heated and easily managed accommodation throughout the area.
Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service, advised people to make sure they get their old electric blankets tested (this is offered around September time, every year) They should be stored flat or rolled, used according to instructions and thrown away when 10 years old. The service offers home safety checks and free smoke alarms.
Age UK offer the following services:
Working with My Choice to arrange home care or assessment by occupational therapists.
Day Centres – offering company, activities and a hot meal.
Wellbeing & friendship services – visitors and telephone buddies
Help with form filling and benefits.