Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Warmth of human kindness vital when temperature falls

As the cold snap persists, don't forget to check that older friends and neighbours are okay, says Brendan McCormack

As the poor weather looks set to continue, we need to make sure that our older friends and neighbours are looked after.

Cold weather is a huge source of worry to older people, posing increased health risks, loneliness and depression, as well as the financial pressure of escalating energy bills in order to stay warm.

Many older people really struggle during extreme weather conditions like those we are currently facing.

Snow and ice can stop people getting in and out of their homes. The thought of a trip, or a fall, can make people afraid to venture out.

Even getting to the shops to make sure that there's enough food in the house can be a real difficulty.

Almost half of older people in Northern Ireland feel more isolated than ever before and weather like this can exacerbate feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Add to that the possibility of electricity failure, or problems with home-heating, and it's clear why many older people struggle. But we can all do something to help. We have a duty of care to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are supported at difficult times like these.

A small gesture can often make a huge difference and it doesn't take a lot of effort to be a good friend, or neighbour, and make sure that someone you know is well and coping with the adverse weather.

Here's six simple things you can do:

• Call in with an older person you know to check that everything is okay;

• Clear a neighbour's path, if it's frosty, or snow is lying;

• Offer a supporting arm when the ground is slippery;

• Pick up some extra groceries the next time you're at the shop;

• Make a little extra soup to share, and;

• Take the bins out and bring them back in again.

I would also advise older people themselves to take some simple steps to stay warm, well and safe in the coming days.

Here's five things you can do:

1. Heat your home well. By setting your heating to the right temperature (18–21°C, or 64–70°F), you can keep your home warm and your bills as low as possible.

2. Eat well. Food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm. Keep basic food items in the cupboard, or freezer, and try to make sure that you have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day.

3. Wrap up warmly. Try to avoid going outside on extremely cold days if you don't need to. Remember to wrap up warm and remember that several thin layers of clothing will keep you warmer than one thick layer.

4. Stay Active. Keeping active generates heat and helps to keep you warm. It's good for general fitness and wellbeing, too. So when you're indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour. Get up and walk around, make yourself a warm drink and spread any chores throughout the day.

5. Keep a bag of salt and sand handy at the front, or the back door. This can prevent ice from forming, keeping steps, or paths, safe for you and for any visitors.

It doesn't cost a thing to be kind, so wherever you are in Northern Ireland, please make sure that an older person you know gets all the help that they need.

There's a lot more information on supporting older people to stay warm, well and connected in the Age NI guide, Winter Wrapped Up, which is available at www.ageni.org/wrappedup.

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