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There are many wonderful things about ageing: becoming wiser, having the freedom to explore interests and connect with friends, as well as the time to reflect on life’s experiences. Yet, the body’s ability to cope with the cold isn’t one of them. Older adults tend to lose heat faster than younger adults and ageing can dampen our natural defences against the cold, like shivering. Keeping warm is essential, or hypothermia can be a real risk. Winter proof your home by ensuring you have adequate heating to maintain a temperature of 20-24 degrees in the rooms you use. While many of us are cost conscious, heating is not something to skimp on. Reduce operational costs by making sure heaters have been serviced, you have a good seal on rooms and use curtains to reduce heat loss. Rooms should also have adequate ventilation with access to fresh air. Asking your Home Services Carer to pull out your warm blankets from the wardrobe and help get them ready to use is also a good idea.
You’ve seen the advertisements and heard the advice from your GP; they are wise words, and worth repeating here. Winter is the cold and flu season and elderly people are among the most at risk from serious complications if they get ill. As our bodies age, our immune system does too, and is less effective at fighting illness. A bout of flu can open the way for serious complications such as heart attack and stroke. Remember, with the cold air outside, you will likely be spending more time indoors where it’s warm. Without the same level of fresh air and sunshine, germs and flu can spread more easily. It is simple to protect yourself. Plan a visit to your GP to get the free flu vaccination provided to people over 65.
If you’re heading out, rug up; grab your favourite coat, scarf, hat and gloves. In cold conditions, our bodies can lose heat quickly through the hands, feet and head. Extreme cold can lead to hypothermia, which could lead to heart attack, kidney problems and liver damage. Keep an eye on the weather and if it looks like being particularly chilly, wear layers of clothing to keep yourself warm. Don’t forget that a heavy wind can rapidly reduce your body temperature. If it’s raining, protect yourself with an umbrella or raincoat and be sure to change out of damp clothes and dry your hair as soon as you can. If you have a condition such as arthritis or Parkinson’s and find it difficult to dress yourself, make use of your Home Services Carer visit to ensure you have the help you need to get ready.
With our relatively mild winters, most parts of Australia don’t have quite the same problem with winter snow and ice as countries in the Northern Hemisphere. That said, in many parts of the country, especially away from the coast, morning frosts are experienced, and with them icy conditions. Winter also brings shorter days with less light, cold weather which reduces blood flow to our limbs, and the need for heavier layers of clothing, all of which can make getting around more difficult. Whether you live at home or are in residential aged care, tread carefully and take extra care when moving around in winter; perhaps consider some simple home modifications or the seasonal use of a walking stick or frame or mobility scooter.
As with hotter months, our bodies respond to changes in the climate around us. It is important to remember that the colder temperatures affect a range of bodily systems, and it is not just the risk of hypothermia that we should be mindful of. Our hearts have to work harder to maintain body heat, increasing blood pressure and the risk of heart attack. If you have a thyroid condition, your body may have trouble maintaining a constant temperature, and diabetes can make it difficult for the body to heat evenly. Use your Home Services Carer to help you make visits to health professionals to ensure you stay in top shape.