Winter can prove to be a difficult time for older people and those living with long term health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer. An estimated 24,000 avoidable deaths occur in England and Wales in winter each year; with many more people more needing hospital treatment. A drop in temperature and wintery conditions can increase the risk of accidents and ill health occurring, making some people particularly vulnerable.
You could make a big difference by looking in on a neighbour who is elderly or vulnerable. Here are some of our tips for giving a helping hand to a neighbour this winter:
Introduce yourself first
On your first visit be polite, smile, say who you are and ask if it's alright to enter the house before you do so. Let them know that you'll be popping in now and again to see if they need anything. Call the person by their title and surname – Mr or Mrs whatever – at least until you know them better.
If you think an older person may have trouble hearing or has memory problems, make sure to speak clearly (but don't shout!). Pause between sentences and questions to give them the chance to digest the information. And allow a little extra time for them to respond – don't hurry them.
Put the kettle on
Hot drinks help to keep an older person warm, so offer to make a cup of tea or coffee or heat up a can of soup. If they can't get around easily, you could offer to make up a flask of tea, soup or Bovril to have close to hand to last them through the day.
Help with shopping
If you're doing a supermarket run, it doesn't take much to ask if they need some shopping at the same time. This is especially helpful for heavy or bulky items such as cans, washing powder and pet provisions.
Give them a lift
Offers of a lift are usually very welcome, especially when it's cold and icy and hard to get about. If you have a car, offer to drive them to appointments at the GP surgery or hospital, or simply to see their friends. You could also take them to the library, hairdressers or faith services.
Help with household tasks
Getting older can make it hard to tackle even simple jobs around the house, and older people often really appreciate any offer of help with basic chores such as taking out the rubbish, changing light bulbs, fastening sash windows, clearing snow off the path, putting up pictures and so on.
Take them a meal
Many older people need a hand cooking for themselves, so why not take round an extra plate of hot home-cooked food (or a frozen portion they can heat up or microwave).
Check they're warm enough
Ideally the home should be heated to 21ºC. Older people often can't tell how cold they are, so a room thermometer is more accurate. If they can't afford sufficient heating, make sure they dress warmly and have a blanket to hand to wrap around them. Heat is lost through the head and neck, so suggest they wear a hat and scarf, even indoors.
If you know someone who is struggling with keeping their home warm make sure they know about Warm Homes Oldham who might be able to help them
Become a friend
There are lots of organisations who can put you in touch with people who might need a bit of extra help this winter.
- Age UK Oldham www.ageuk.org.uk/oldham
- The Royal Voluntary Service www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk
- Silverline http://www.thesilverline.org.uk
- Independent Age www.independentage.org