As the days shorten and the temperature drops, winter is now with us to signal the end of another year. Along with the excitement of the festive season, the news is full of concerns about the impact of the current economic situation and winter weather on the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. For health and social care workers supporting people who live in their own homes, they will be even more aware of the potential risks associated with these factors. So my blog this month is looking at Keeping Safe, Keeping Warm and Keeping Well.
This past year has seen a number of distressing deaths as a result of house fires. With the pressure on household incomes and colder weather, the potential for taking risks increases. This may be caused by using inadequately serviced or unsafe appliances, or covering vents to try to reduce drafts. These are the kind of risks that could result in the build-up of potentially lethal gases.
Health and social care workers in residential and nursing homes, hospitals and day centres will be well used to regular fire practices. But what about workers who support people in their own home?
It is mandatory to attend regular fire training but who checks that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in place and working in each home? Who checks that batteries are changed regularly? Is there a fire evacuation plan in place?
The Fire Service will carry out a free Home Safety Check for anyone (including you!). They will also know if the person is eligible for a free smoke alarm. The check will identify any potential risks; explain how to reduce or prevent those risks and help the person make an escape plan.
You can find out more at http://www.fireservice.co.uk/safety/hfsc
Last winter started with relatively mild temperatures during December – no white Christmas again! That all changed in January 2013, with the start of a prolonged period of cold weather. March 2013 had the lowest average temperatures for that time of year since 1962 (2.6˚C). This resulted in a 29% increase in winter deaths in England and Wales (Office for National Statistics 2013), compared to winter 2011/12. More women than men died, and the majority of deaths were of those aged 75 and over.
The underlying causes of death were related to respiratory diseases, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, circulatory diseases, injury (e.g. accidental falls) and poisoning.
Older people are particularly vulnerable as they often have a number of long-term health conditions. The majority of older people still live in their own homes with a fixed income, and may be finding it increasingly difficult to manage their household budget while keeping their home warm and eating well. It is important to encourage people to move about as much as possible, to wrap up warmly when in the house, as well as when venturing outside.
Relatives often struggle to think of presents for older people so perhaps suggest something like the hand and feet warmers used by walkers and hikers. These can provide warmth for up to 8 hours, and are cheap and easy to use (available at outdoor activities shops or online). They are also really useful when people are out and about, especially if they are sitting in a wheelchair where they can quickly get chilled. You can also get heat holding socks!
For more advice and a downloadable booklet about keeping warm and well visit:
Last December I wrote about the importance of good hygiene and food safety to avoid one of the winter ‘nasties’ – Norovirus. So far this winter outbreaks in hospitals are lower than the seasonal averages, but winter has only just started and so it pays to be vigilant.
Making sure the people you support have received the flu and pneumonia vaccines, if they are eligible, and, if they live at home, have the basic first aid kit to manage minor ailments, are all good preventative measures to promote wellbeing.
NHS Choices has good advice about the 10 most common winter illnesses – find out more at http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/winterhealth/Pages/Winterhealthrisks.aspx.
This time of year will bring mixed emotions for many people. For many it means seeing family and friends and spending time together, while for others being surrounded by ‘festive spirit and good cheer’ only reinforces their aloneness and loneliness. Loneliness has recently been highlighted as a major feature of many older people’s lives, and for the detrimental effect it has on their mental and physical wellbeing.
The Silver Line has recently been launched in response to this and provides a confidential helpline (0800 4 70 80 90) for information, friendship and advice for older people – 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. Find out more at: http://www.thesilverline.org.uk/
I hope you have found this month’s blog useful. I would encourage you to share the information with your colleagues, the people you support and anyone you come into contact with in your day-to-day life. You could make the difference to someone’s life, this year or next …
Best wishes for the festive season! Remember to keep safe, keep warm and keep well…