The winter months can present their own particular challenges for the elderly. Shorter days in Ireland during November and December mean there’s less light around. This can have a detrimental effect on our vitamin D levels and make us feel a little less happy than usual. So, what can we do to keep our spirits up, stay warm and fend off the impact of the cold weather? Comfort Keepers has put together a list of tips designed to boost your mental and physical health and well-being during the darker months.
Which People Are in the Key At-Risk Groups?
It’s a fact that some people are more vulnerable to the effects of colder weather. If you fall into one or more of these categories, you’re not alone:
- People aged over 65
- Those on low incomes
- People with long-term health conditions
- Those with a physical disability
- People with mental health conditions
Flu, Covid-19 Vaccinations and Winter Infections
Typical winter viral infections can be risky if you’re over 65 or have any kind of chronic illness. These can include:
- Norovirus (a nasty stomach infection that causes diarrhoea and vomiting)
- Colds, tonsillitis and pneumonia
Those who are more fit and healthy are likely to recover from these illnesses by resting, drinking plenty of fluids and using medicines available over the counter. We can all take measures to help protect ourselves. Vaccinations can play a crucial role so always make sure you take advantage of the flu vaccine available between October and April. For many people the vaccine is free. This includes the over 65s, carers, and certain at-risk groups, including those with diabetes. To find the closest pharmacy that delivers the flu vaccine, click here.
It’s also important to make sure that you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations. You should wait at least 4 months for a booster after your last vaccination. Get your third booster if you are over 65 or if you have a weak immune system.
Book a booster vaccine in 3 ways:
- Booking an appointment online here at a time that suits you
- Going to a walk-in booster clinic: find your closet one here
- Calling the HSE for an appointment on 1800 700 700
Protect Yourself and Others From Winter Infections
You can help protect yourself and others from picking up or spreading infections with a few simple steps. These include:
- Getting your annual flu and up-to-date COVID-19 jab as soon as possible
- Wearing a face mask in crowded spaces
- Using tissues to cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
- Keeping objects like door handles clean that others may have touched
- Steering clear of those who display symptoms of an infection
- Cleaning and washing your hands properly and regularly
Most common winter infections are viral. That means antibiotics won’t help cure them. If you start showing signs of being unwell, perhaps by feeling tired, losing your appetite or suffering from aches and pains, follow a few simple steps:
- Drink plenty of plain water
- Make time to rest and take things easier
If your symptoms worsen, make sure someone else is aware, especially if you live alone. This could be your Comfort Keepers carer if you are receiving homecare services. Talk to your GP or local health professional.
Staying Fit and Warm During the Winter
You must ensure that you eat plenty of hot and healthy meals. Drinking plenty of water is important too. This is going to help give you the energy you need to stay active. Exercise is key as well. If you are unable to get outside due to the weather, there are plenty of options available. Repetitive exercises using weights are great to help keep muscles strong and protect bones. You could even try these sitting down using cans of fruit or vegetables instead of weights.
If you are mobile and able, you could join an online fitness group or use a fitness App. These are great ways that can encourage you to be consistent in maintaining your fitness levels. Make sure your home is warm enough. If applicable, ensure you get registered as a vulnerable customer with utility providers. Always have your Eircode handy. If you’re unsure of yours, you can find it here. Have several days’ supply of medication available and keep a list of emergency contact numbers handy.
Having a fall is one of the key dangers that comes with the winter months. They can lead to all kinds of complicated and long-term problems. You can help to mitigate the chances of them happening by limiting the time spent walking outside during the cold weather. If you have to go out, wear shoes that fit properly and that have non-slip soles. It’s not just icy weather that can pose a danger. Wet leaves during the Autumn months can be easy to slip on too. If you do have a fall, even if it seems like a minor one, contact your GP for a check-up.
When you’re at home, there are also precautions you can take, especially if you are elderly or have mobility issues. Invest in an energy-saving bulb so that you can leave a light on overnight in case you need to get up and use the bathroom. Get yourself a non-slip shower or bath mat. Check that wires or flexes from lamps and TVs for instance, are not going to lie in places that could trip you up. You might want to think about installing handrails if you have stairs. There are ways to keep the installation costs down. Age Action’s Care and Repair will carry out small DIY jobs, free of charge, for older people with the aim of maintaining their independence. Find out more about this service here.
Taking a Vitamin D Supplement
Vitamin D helps control the quantity of calcium and phosphate in our bodies, keeping teeth, bones, and muscles healthy. In Ireland, studies show that adults tend to have low levels of vitamin D. From late March to the end of September, most of us should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight. During the autumn and winter, you’re likely to need to get more vitamin D from what you eat because there’s less sunshine. Eating more of these foods will help:
- Oily fish, like salmon, sardines, herring or mackerel
- Red meat, liver and egg yolks
- Fortified foods including some fat spreads and breakfast cereals
You could also consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the colder months.
Combatting the Winter Blues
Studies have shown that Winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), affects 1 in 15 people in Ireland. Symptoms typically arise at the beginning of Autumn. Although anyone may suffer from it, the elderly may be more vulnerable as they tend to be less active spending less time outdoors.
Key symptoms include:
- Feeling depressed and lethargic
- Problems sleeping
- Overeating, irritability and feeling unsociable
So, what can you do to try to beat the Winter blues and improve your mental health and well-being? We’ve compiled 8 tips. We understand that many people will not be able to achieve all these actions for all sorts of reasons. However, even trying any that are possible will help.
1. Stay Active: Take a daily one-hour walk in the middle of the day.
2. Get Outdoors: Get as much natural daylight as possible, especially at midday and on brighter days. Inside your home, choose paler colours that reflect light from outside, and sit near windows whenever possible.
3. Stay Warm: Being cold can make you feel more depressed. Keeping warm can reduce the winter blues by half. Have plenty of hot drinks, wear cosy footwear and if possible, keep your home between 18C and 21C.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet: This will boost your mood, give you more energy and prevent you from gaining unnecessary weight. Balance any cravings for carbohydrates, like pasta and potatoes, with lots of fruit and vegetables, even canned varieties.
5. Get More Light: Some sufferers find using a lightbox highly effective. The therapy typically means sitting in front of one of these for around two hours a day.
6. Take Up a New Hobby: Keeping your mind active with a new interest will help. This could be playing bridge, singing, knitting, keeping a diary, or joining an online group. You can make these activities part of your daily routine.
7. Stay Connected with Family and Friends: Socialising is good for our mental health and will help to keep the winter blues at bay. Make a plan to have daily contact with at least one person you care about either by phone or using an App. Writing letters or emails to stay in touch can also help.
8. Talking Problems Through: Talking treatments from counselling or just a chat with a carer can help you cope with symptoms of the winter blues.
Talk to the Comfort Keepers Team!
Comfort Keepers offers a range of homecare services designed to help elderly people and others with their physical and mental well-being. This includes companionship care which can be essential when dealing with issues specifically related to Winter.
If you or a loved one is in need of extra support at home, talk to us today and find out how we can help.