Winter wellbeing: a guide to helping seniors stay healthy, social and happy during winter

Most of us aren’t huge fans of the winter months. The shift from the pleasant autumnal cool to the bitter, sometimes icy chill of December can be a tricky one to manage. That’s especially true for those in their later years.

There are a host of factors which you’ll have to consider when caring for someone elderly during winter. Whether it’s helping to maintain social connections, staying on top of finances, or even just finding handy ways to keep a house warm, there’s a lot to keep in mind.

Luckily, there are a variety of steps you can take to combat the knock-on effects of the seasons changing. Let’s explore what you and those around you can do to ensure you’re taking care of a loved one’s wellbeing this winter.

Advice for helping individuals leave their home during winter

While it would be wrong to think of the season as outright dangerous, there are additional considerations which need to be made in December through to March.

  • Walking outside. Heading out shouldn’t be something that is avoided altogether, but make sure that the conditions are stable underfoot. If there has been a frost or chill, it could be icy on the ground.
  • Dressing to leave the home. As someone ages, they will naturally decrease the amount of body heat they produce. 
  • This makes it harder to stay at a comfortable body temperature when leaving the home in cold conditions. The best solution is to dress in layers. These will help to create a natural form of insulation. In addition to hats, gloves, scarves, and winter coats.
  • When to shop. Make sure to help them plan ahead of time if they’re thinking about doing a food shop. In winter, it can be a good idea to have supplies at home – in case the weather makes it difficult to leave. Do a basic stock check at the start of the week and work out what they’re going to need.
  • Lend a hand where you can. If you feel like the person you’re caring for isn’t able to do their own shopping and errands in the colder months, make sure to step in and help them out. Ask at the start of the week what they’ll need doing and make a plan of action to step-in and help where possible.

How to keep a home warm

Your home is your sanctum. It’s where we unwind, relax and, perhaps most importantly of all in winter, shelter ourselves from the outside world. It’s vital a house is kept warm in the colder months of the year – especially if someone who is potentially vulnerable lives there. But how do you go about achieving that? Here are some of the best steps for helping your loved one stay comfortable:

  • The right temperature. Make sure a home is heated to an appropriate temperature. The NHS recommends that your house should be no lower than 18 degrees celsius at any time in winter. It’s important that the bedroom stays at this level, which means you’ll ideally need to keep windows closed at all times.
  • Hot water bottles. A hot water bottle is a quick and easy way to warm someone up if they’re feeling chilly at night time. It’s also possible to use an electric blanket if the person you’re caring for still feels cold – although they shouldn’t use both of these at the same time. If the water bottle spills it could become conductive with the electricity of the blanket.
  • Hot food and drink. Hot drinks and food will help to regulate body temperature, making it easier to feel comfortable. This is actually true no matter what the conditions and will also mean they’re getting the nutrients they need to keep energy levels up.
  • Block out drafts. Draw curtains as soon as the light starts to fade, and make sure to close doors to block out any draughts in the home. An icy breeze can drastically reduce the temperature of a room, and any point of exit for heat to escape will naturally result in a colder environment.

If you feel like your home isn’t warm enough after ticking all of these boxes, you may need to have the heating system checked by a professional. It would be a good idea to have this checked in the autumn of every year in preparation for the upcoming seasonal shift.

Financial help for the winter

While money is always a handy thing to have, it can be particularly tough to get by if you’re strapped for cash in the winter. The Government has a number of grants and schemes which exist to help and support. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Cold Weather Payment. This payment system is available to anyone who is already claiming Pension Credit, Income Support or Universal Credit. If the temperature in the UK is forecast to be below 0 degrees celsius for seven consecutive days, a person is eligible for a free payment of £25. It is available between November 1st and March 31st.
  • Warm Home Discount Scheme. This one-off payment (which goes against the bill, rather than being paid directly to you) can save as much as £140 on an energy bill for any month between October and March. It can be used on either the gas or electric bill, and a person will qualify as long as they’re in the core or broader group of Pension Credit.
  • Affordable Warmth Obligation. This scheme provides people the opportunity to subsidise the costs of home additions like a boiler upgrade or replacement, loft insulation, or the replacement of a window or door. The amount someone receives depends on their personal energy supplier, which means it can vary.

How to stay social during the colder, quieter months

One of the overlooked aspects of managing the winter is ensuring they keep their social connections intact. Having a close group of friends can be a real boost to both physical and mental health, so it’s important you help keep these bonds strong at a time when it may be hard to get out and visit people face-to-face.

Here are some of the best ways to make sure they keep in touch with those close to them:

  • Help them get familiar with online technology. While it might feel like an impossible puzzle to wrap their head around, with some support digital technology is a lot easier to get used to than they might imagine. Having good digital literacy means they’ll be able to stay in touch with friends and family far more easily when it’s too cold to head outside.

    If you’re confident enough to teach them yourself, make sure to find some time to sit down and run them through the basics. Here are a host of available lessons to help better understand the internet, smart devices, tablets, social media and other pieces of tech they might not feel comfortable with.
  • Sign them up to a volunteer programme. If you feel like you just don’t have the time to see them as much as you’d like, volunteer programmes are a great way to make sure your loved one regularly sees a friendly face.

    There are a variety of charities who provide someone to chat to and get visits from on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. This can be particularly useful in the winter when it may be more challenging for an elderly person to get out and about. The volunteer can either call them on the phone or, if they feel comfortable, visit them in person (depending on COVID-19 guidance).
  • Ask family to come and visit. Don’t be embarrassed to ask people to come and visit your loved one – as long as you have permission from them first. If you explain that they don’t feel totally at ease with leaving the home, extended family are likely to make the effort to come over (depending on COVID-19 guidance).
  • Take them on small, short trips. If they're able, and feeling confident enough, you can always take them on a leisurely stroll somewhere nearby to see people. Even if this is just for a quick hello, it’s good to keep their social connections intact at a time when they run the risk of accidentally drifting apart.

Winter checklist

One of the best ways to approach elderly care in the winter is by creating a checklist. This shouldn’t just address core concerns like safety, socialising, and comfort (although these are important), but also look at wider issues. Here’s an example of some other considerations you may need to make:

  • Internet connectivity. How does the broadband speed perform? While the internet might be the last of their concerns, you’ll know just how important having a good connection can be for quickly communicating with someone. Have this tested as the winter approaches and talk to them about the benefits of upgrading if it’s required. You can use our broadband speed test tool to see whether they have a good connection or not.
  • Integrity of their home. Make sure to do a thorough check on the home before winter hits. This gives you the chance to patch up or account for any issues with the house before they become a genuine problem. Check everything from fireplaces and chimneys, to the attic and basement.
  • Home insurance. A home insurance policy is a handy way to pay for any unexpected costs caused as a result of winter weather. While you’ll need to check the fine print of any quote, there’s a good chance having this in place will provide them with much-needed financial support in a difficult situation.
  • Life insurance. It’s good to have a discussion about life insurance. While nobody likes to think about it, having this kind of policy in place will make things a lot easier for those left behind should the worst happen. This is obviously a sensitive subject, so be sure to let them lead the conversation.
  • Bad weather contingency plan. While the UK isn’t prone to bouts of extreme weather, they’re not totally unheard of – particularly the further north you go. Make sure to have a plan of action should you find yourself in this scenario.

While winter poses a series of challenges, it doesn’t have to stop individuals from continuing to carry out their normal routines. Keep this blog in mind for helpful tips this winter.