How Does the Cold Weather Affect the Elderly?
Cold weather can have an impact far greater than simply making someone uncomfortable. Older people and those who already have health concerns could be seriously affected by the issues bought about by a drop in temperature. This is especially of concern following last year’s large increase in excess winter deaths. As an example of the scale this represents, last winter saw 23,137 deaths in Scotland, the highest in 18 years, and a 75% increase of additional deaths over the winter previous.
Many people don’t realise just how far reaching the consequences of cold weather can be, and just how detrimental it can be to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Here, we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest issues surrounding elderly people and cold weather. While these things can affect anyone at any age – especially if they have an illness – the effect on the elderly is often more severe and more common.
There are a few reasons for this. For example, as we get older, it becomes harder for our bodies to recognise how cold we are. Therefore, we become less efficient at responding appropriately and in good time to prevent exposure to the cold from creating more serious issues. This is why it is so important to keep your home above 18°C at all times if you are aged over 65, as the effects of being cold will last longer than for most younger people.
This is by no means a complete list of the issues that elderly people can face from the cold, however, it should give you a good overview of some of the most significant.
Cold Weather Can Cause Increased Blood Pressure
When we get cold – especially if our bodies fail to recover quickly – this can cause the blood to thicken and thus increase blood pressure. As a result of this, life-threatening incidents such as a heart attack or stroke are more likely. This problem is much larger than most people realise.
In 2001, a study conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that people in poorly heated homes are more vulnerable to winter death than those In well-heated homes. The Office of National Statistics wrote that ischaemic heart disease and respiratory diseases, alongside Alzheimer’s disease and cerebrovascular diseases, account for the majority of additional winter deaths. Respiratory disease sits above both circulatory disease and dementia as the leading causes. In the winter of 2014-15 for instance, it caused 13,100 deaths, several thousand more than the other two top causes.
Another example comes from the British Heart Foundation, who reported that between December 2016 and March 2017, 7,400 extra winter deaths were caused by heart attacks and strokes in England and Wales. This represents an increase of 1,600 from the previous year.
Suffering From the Flu
While cold weather can cause various illnesses, one of the most common and the most devastating is the flu virus. Last year saw a significant increase in people suffering from the flu, including many elderly people. This was so significant that it led the government to roll out a more effective flu vaccine for those ages over 65 and over.
Put simply, flu is no joke, and you’re more likely to get it in cold weather, with studies suggesting that low humidity and cold temperatures keep the virus more stable than hotter and more humid climates.
According to the United Kingdom Met Office, cold weather makes those with arthritis suffer worse, and as it is most common in people aged in their mid-40s and over, that means that the cold disproportionately affects older people. And this worsening of the condition isn’t just about a decrease in quality of life either: it can also increase the possibility of serious accidents due to the effect on things such as a person’s grip strength.
Anxiety and Depression
Worrying about the cold can also have a serious effect on the mental health of elderly people. A survey of 2,000 people aged 65 and over found that around half (46%) worried about the prospect of the cold increasing their bills, and a similar number (56%) were concerned that their income would not be enough to cover the cost, with a fifth admitting to having to use savings or credit to get through the winter months.
Financial worries are one of the most common causes of mental health issues. According to YouGov research on those aged 55 and over, it is one of the most common triggers for mental health problems, with 27% citing that being the case for them. These concerns can cause serious anxiety and impact a person’s mental – as well as physical – health.
The winter months don’t have to be a cause of concern or discomfort though. By keeping the temperature of an elderly person’s home consistently at 18°C or over, you can help to improve their quality of life and alleviate any health conditions they may have. There are plenty of practical and affordable steps you can take to keep the elderly warm during Winter as well as government schemes which financially contribute towards increased heating costs for the elderly.
By offering a little support to those most affected by the cold, you can ensure we all have a happy and warm winter.