If older people currently find themselves shielding, it might make the reality of getting through winter alone even more upsetting. The change in the season means a lot more time in isolation for people who have already had to endure a lot of it. And although winter can be a time of home comforts for some, it tends to be difficult for many people of all ages.
Many studies have shown a correlation between the colder months and mental health difficulties, including research conducted by the University of Glasgow. This study also revealed that the winter's depressive pattern appears to affect females more heavily than men.
It’s during this time that most people have to stay indoors, which often leads to dropping fun, productive activities. As such, they find themselves socialising a lot less and with more time on their hands. Additionally, the winter gives us shorter days and a marked decrease in sunlight, reducing serotonin levels in the body. Because serotonin' is connected with happiness levels, this decrease can cause low mood as a result.
People in their older years are particularly vulnerable to the effects of winter - both mentally and physically. If an older person's body temperature falls beneath 35C because of wintry weather, this creates an increased risk to their health.
For instance, they may experience an elevated heart rate and higher blood pressure, and also be at risk of suffering from a heart attack or liver damage.
Hypothermia is another serious condition that poses a significant threat if left untreated. It's the leading cause of death during the winter and can lead to the heart and respiratory systems shutting down. It's essential to notice the signs of illness as early as possible and getting it treated swiftly.
It also reflects the significance of the role you can play in your community - offering support could create a genuinely meaningful impact. Your care and participation can help older adults manage the hardships of winter.
If you are looking for ways to help, there are plenty of ways to get involved.
Think about volunteering for an organisation that provides support services to older people. It’s a wonderful place to start, and many run befriending schemes where volunteers can become telephone buddies. These buddies offer up their time to chat on the phone with someone who could use a friendly voice. It's a lovely way to engage with older people who are grateful for receiving that call. Yours could be the first call they've received that day.
Other volunteer roles may be visiting people in-person (COVID rules permitting) or driving them around, such as to the shops or medical appointments. You could even become a host for social groups in your area.
Here are a few organisations that offer befriending services you could volunteer for:
Stop And Chat
The only way to find out how someone’s doing is to ask them. When you see an older neighbour on the street, a smile and a wave are always a nice gesture. But, how about just stopping to have a chat with them? Doing this could make all the difference to their day. It’s bound to open up a lot more meaningful conversation as opposed to a brief wave from across the road.
Be mindful of whether the person you’re talking to has hearing issues or memory problems. If they do, try to make an extra effort to speak up for them so they can hear you. Being considerate enough to slow your speech down will be well appreciated.
Take your time when speaking to them, so they don’t feel hurried. Pausing in between sentences and questions will give them time to absorb the information and respond to it.
Lend A Hand
If you know anyone in your community who struggles with one or more of these issues, they could probably do with some help from a caring neighbour.
- Lives by themselves.
- Rarely ventures out of the house.
- Has recently lost a loved one.
- Has sight and/or hearing loss.
- Seems to be in generally poor health.
Stepping in and helping with simple tasks could go a long way - especially if they don’t have family nearby. You could do things such as:
- Picking up their prescriptions
- Driving them to their doctors’ appointments.
- Doing their grocery shopping.
- Taking them to one of their social activities.
- Simply taking their dog out for a walk.
Chip In With Household Chores
There are many things you could do to help older people that may seem small to you but makes all the difference to them. This is because as people get older, it can become harder to do various tasks around the house. A few chores you can do to make life that much more comfortable are:
- Taking the rubbish out.
- Replacing old light bulbs.
- When it snows heavily, clearing the path of snow and ice.
- Fastening sash windows.
- Sprucing up their place with a clean.
Stay Alert And Prepared
Older people are especially susceptible to illness during colder weather. So, it’s essential to keep an eye out for any signs of sickness. It’s also handy to help get them prepared for the season.
Have a check-in with them before the cold season hits and see whether their heating is ready for the winter. You could also help them stock up on food supplies and try to make sure they have the amenities they need at home. That way, they’re not forced to go out for them.
Also, check that they’ve received their free flu jab. If they haven’t received it, you can help them book in a GP appointment.
When winter does set in, keep an eye out for any signs of serious illness. These could be the following:
- Slurred speech.
- Complaints of feeling cold.
- Trouble with breathing.
If at any point you do feel worried about someone’s health, find out whether they have a relative or friend you could get in touch with. Otherwise, call their doctor or contact NHS 111.
There are many ways you could be of great service to your community this winter. Simply sharing your time might be a lifeline to someone who needs just that little bit of attention and community spirit.