With temperatures across the British Isles forecast to plummet in the coming week, the Department of Health is raising awareness about how the public – particularly those in vulnerable groups, such as older people – can stay well during cold periods of the winter months.
As with the UK, the Isle of Man sees an increase in deaths during the winter months of approximately 30 – 40 (around 25,000 extra in the UK), with most occurring in those aged 65 and over. However the cold weather impacts other vulnerable groups such as those on low incomes, the disabled, and those with chronic conditions such as heart, lung and kidney disease. The increase in deaths is accounted for through numerous causes such as flu and other infectious diseases, falls, not keeping warm enough, and not eating and drinking enough.
Top tips on staying healthy and warm during the cold weather:
- Vaccinations – contact your GP Surgery to arrange for an annual flu jab to vaccinate against the influenza virus and for information about pneumococcal vaccination (to help protect against pneumonia, septicaemia, and meningitis)
- Protect against germs – avoid picking up and spreading germs by practicing good hygiene – washing your hands regularly with soap and hot water, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief when you cough or sneeze, and using hand sanitizer when out and about. This will help protect against getting colds, flu, and other conditions such as norovirus (diarrhoea and vomiting).
- Keep active – try to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, with appropriate regular exercise (speak to your GP before commencing an exercise plan) or by moving around at least once an hour
- Eat well and drink plenty of fluids – eat a healthy and varied diet and drink plenty of water and hot drinks to keep energy levels up and to stay warm – if necessary, stock up on tinned and frozen foods so that you don’t have to venture out to the shops in severe cold weather
- Wear the right clothing – dress for the weather, both inside and outside the house – multiple thin layers (such as a vest, shirt, and jumper) retain body heat more effectively than one thick layer (such as a woolly jumper). Wear slippers or shoes in the house to keep feet warm and ensure that footwear has grips to help avoid falls. When outside, don’t forget to wear a scarf, gloves and a hat to prevent heat loss.
- Heat your home effectively and safely – set your home or at least one room at around 21o C (70o F), setting heating timers to come on before you get up and before you go to bed if necessary, remembering to close curtains, doors and block drafts to keep rooms warm. Bedrooms should be above 18o C (65o F) and you can use a hot water bottle or electronic blanket in bed (but not both). Heating appliances should be regularly checked and used with adequate ventilation to avoid the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning; electric blankets should be checked regularly and replaced at least every 10 years.
- Keep a supply of good home remedies for colds, sore throats, and coughs which are all common at this time of year
- Keep an eye on the weather forecasts either by television, radio, internet or newspapers – or alternatively call 0900 624 3300 for a recorded forecast
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help either by contacting friends, relatives, neighbours, your GP, Social Worker, District Nurse, or Housing Officer and remember, in a life threatening situation you should always dial 999 immediately.
Dr Paul Emerson, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, said: “It’s vital that people take responsibility for their health and wellbeing all year round, but especially during the winter months. By following this simple and basic advice, the public and, in particular, vulnerable groups and their carers can significantly reduce the risk of the many health problems that come as a result of winter – from flu, to falls, and sadly sometimes even death. It’s important we keep a community spirit and check on particularly vulnerable neighbours regularly during any cold snaps.”
Further sources of information and advice:
- Information on ‘Keep Warm, Keep Well’ can be found at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth/Pages/KeepWarmKeepWell.aspx
- Information on ‘All wrapped up’ can be found at: www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing/keeping-your-body-healthy/winter-wrapped-up/.