Last winter there were 16,100 excess winter deaths amongst people aged 65 and over as a result of respiratory diseases. This makes respiratory diseases the highest cause of excessive deaths in winter 2017/18, and the death rate is the highest it has been for 17 years.
Excess winter deaths are calculated on the basis of how many more people die during winter than would be expected in non-winter months. Last winter, deaths due to respiratory diseases were over 85% higher than during warmer months of the year.
High levels of influenza circulating amongst older people in particular was one of the most significant factors underlying last year’s significant increase in winter deaths, leading to complications like bronchitis and pneumonia, and exacerbating existing health conditions in vulnerable older people.
After respiratory diseases, circulatory diseases were the second biggest cause for the alarming numbers of excess deaths seen last winter. Circulatory diseases are also exacerbated by exposure to cold, which can raise blood pressure, and once raised it can take longer to return to normal increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
How Age UK is helping
Even though people over 65 recognise winter can be hard on their health – they are more likely to have heightened concerns about the extra expense that the winter, and the way the dark nights and miserable weather can limit their activities, making it harder for them to stay active, engaged and keep their spirits up .
We know the cold winter period can have substantial risks and challenges for older people and serious consequences on their ability to fight off winter bugs and illnesses.
Older people are more susceptible to viruses in winter because as we age our bodies change. Cold temperatures raise blood pressure and increase the risk of flu and other lung-related problems. Our immune system doesn’t function as well and our blood pressure takes longer to return to normal, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Top tips to help older people stay healthy during winter
Dr Saleyha Ahsan from BBC Two’s ‘Trust me I’m a Doctor’ has partnered with Age UK to create a short film of top tips to help older people stay healthy during the darker, colder, winter months.
Responding to the ONS figures, Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director, said:
“There is no magic wand when it comes to preventing winter illnesses as we get older, so it is imperative that we take some simple steps to protect ourselves from the cold at the time of year when we are at our most vulnerable.
“Fighting off winter respiratory illnesses and keeping warm are just two of the substantial challenges that older people face during the winter months – simple steps like making sure you get your flu jab and wrapping up well in the cold can really help.
“We’re delighted to team up with Dr Ahsan and hope our new film will help everyone to look after themselves, and encourage people to check in on their families, friends and neighbours, to make sure we all stay warm and well this winter.”
A&E and humanitarian doctor, Dr Saleyha Ahsan who works in Bangor Hospital, said:
“It is vital that older people take simple precautions like; wrapping up warm with plenty of layers, breathing through a scarf while outside to warm up the air and protect lungs, having a flu and pneumonia vaccination, and making sure homes are warm enough to help combat the effects of winter.
“Asking for help during the winter months is another really important thing to do – so make sure that you ask those around you for extra help and support if you need it. Your doctor, family, friends and neighbours and your local Age UK are all great places to start”.
Age UK’s top tips for a healthy winter include:
To help prevent illnesses
- Have a flu vaccination every year – the new vaccine introduced this year for people aged 65+ has an agent which helps boost the immune system and helps fight illnesses.
- There is also a pneumonia vaccine. Find out if you’re eligible when you have your flu jab.
- Keep your hands clean – good hand hygiene helps stop infections spreading.
- Keep simple cold and sore throat remedies in your medicine cabinet to treat minor illnesses when they strike. Your local Pharmacist can give advice on treatments.
- Wrap up when you go outside in the cold; wear layers and keep hands, feet and face warm and covered with scarves, gloves and thick socks.
- Eat well – make sure you eat at least one hot meal every day to keep up energy levels, and drinks hot drinks throughout the day to keep warm.
- Keep warm to stay well – heat your living room to 21 degrees centigrade (69.8 Fahrenheit) and your bedroom to 18 degrees (64.5 Fahrenheit) and take particular care if you go from a warm environment into the coldvi.
- Keep moving – try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time even if you just move your arms and legs. If you can, stay active. Not only will it keep you fit and healthy, it will also generate heat to keep you warmer.