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Keeping Warm and Safe This Winter

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Published: 5 Dec 2012      

The horrible chill of the winter months are nearly upon us again and you've probably already had your first cold of the season, as well as the yearly argument over turning the heating on or putting on another layer. But the cold weather can cause more serious problems. Here are our top tips for keeping yourself warm and well this winter.

Are you or know someone at risk from being cold?

As the weather gets colder, it's essential to keep warm. More people get ill in the winter than any other time of the year. Evidence has been found directly linking cold weather to higher death rates, especially amongst older, frailer people and others in at-risk groups.

Remember, winter needn't be dangerous if you take the right steps.

Keep an eye on each other
Although the UK prides itself on its sense of community and at this time of year some people rely on it. However, neighbours still don’t know each other or communicate, so if you have an older person for a neighbour or relative, please look out for them over the coming months. Perhaps leave a key with a relative or a neighbour that you trust, to let any emergency personnel in at the time of a crisis. Also have contact numbers of next of kin to pass on to these services, or a list by your phone to call in case of a problem. It is important to prevent people from becoming cold in the first place.

Prevention is always easier than cure!

Looking out for trouble
If someone has had an accident in their home, fallen and injured themselves or been taken ill, they may not be able to attract attention of neighbours, passers by or people who call at the door. Always be on the look out for signs that something might be wrong, especially when the weather is cold. If you feel that you could be in a position of falling or in danger, consider a personal alarm linked to carers, or even an outside alarm box.

What signs should I be looking for?

There are many signs to look out for:

  • Milk not taken in late in the day.
  • Newspapers stuck in the letterbox.
  • Curtains drawn during the day.
  • lights on during the day.
  • Home in darkness when there should be someone at home.
  • Dog barking all day or the cat scratching to be let in.

What to do:

  • See if you can find a friend or relative who has a key.
  • If you're worried, contact the emergency services.

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a lowered deep-core body temperature of 35C/95F or below. It is the lowered temperature of the organs inside the body which is important, which an ordinary thermometer cannot measure this. You may not actually feel cold, but if you sit in a cold room and do little or nothing to keep warm, you may run the risk of becoming hypothermic or becoming ill with bronchitis or pneumonia. Both are cold related illnesses.

What are the danger signs of hypothermia?

The danger signs are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Very cold skin on parts of the body normally covered, for example the stomach or armpits.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Not feeling cold, even in a bitterly cold room.

What should I do if I discover someone who may be hypothermic?

If you are in any doubt:

  • Do move the person into warmer surroundings if possible.
  • Wrap the person in a light layer of blankets to avoid further loss of body heat. Heat can be lost through the floor too, so something underneath is advisable (if no injuries).
  • Give them warm, nourishing drinks.
  • Call the doctor or nurse or NHS Direct.
  • Do not subject the person to any sudden extreme change of temperature, so do not put them next to a fire or give them hot water bottles or heavy layers of clothes, duvets or hot baths, as this can send them into shock.
  • Do not give them alcohol, as it will stimulate further heat loss through the skin.

How can I keep myself warm?

Warmer wear
At home, try to wear several thin layers of clothing, they'll keep heat in better than one thick layer. Make sure you keep warm at night by wearing bed socks and thermal underwear. Night caps might be out of fashion, but are good ideas at this time of year. Do you remember when your mother told you how you lose most of your heat through your head? Well, she was right, so wear a hat or headscarf when you're outdoors.

Eat yourself warmer
A good diet is a vital part of staying warm too. Try to have at least one hot meal a day. Have hot drinks throughout the day, and one before bed time. Why not keep a flask of hot drink by your bed too, so you won't have to get out of bed to make one if you wake up in the night. Try to keep a stock of food in your cupboards, in case you can't get down to the shops in the cold weather.

Keep moving

Moving around is good for your health and generates extra body heat, so any exercise or activity will help keep you warm. If possible try and move round at least once an hour.

Fighting the flu
You can ward off the flu and other infections by regularly and carefully washing your hands. And the old advice of "coughs and sneezes spread diseases" is still true, so cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, using a tissue if possible. Consider getting a ‘flu jab’ which is available from your GP if you are 65 or over, or if you have a serious respiratory condition, heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes or lowered immunity, or if you have had a stroke.

Stop smoking
Stopping smoking will boost your health for the winter, reduce your chances of a heart attack and improve your body’s circulation.

Be safe
Safety is important in all aspects of keeping yourself warm. Care should be taken when using electric blankets or filling hot water bottles. Never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together, as this is extremely dangerous and could give you an electric shock.

There are other ways to keep both you and your home warm.

Get your home ready for winter
If your home is poorly insulated, it'll be colder to live in and costlier to heat and with the recent rises in heating bills, you might be worrying about keeping warm this winter.

If your home is cold and damp, you can't seem to keep it warm, or your gas and electricity bills are high then your home might benefit from better insulation. Fit draught proofing, insulate your walls and attic space. Grants are available from the Warm Front Scheme and your energy supplier.

Get your heating system serviced and your chimney swept every year, be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and protect yourself against them. You may be entitled to some additional financial help, especially during periods of very cold weather.

Heat well
Try to keep a temperature of 21C (70F) in the main rooms you use during the day; your bedroom should be kept above 18 degrees.

Paying the bills
Don't think twice about turning the heating up, even if you're worried about the cost. As harsh as it sounds, remember, better a bill than dead.


There are some simple things you can do to save money on your heating bills, like only boiling as much water as you need rather than filling you kettle up.

Don't leave your telly on stand-by. What is it waiting for? Electrical appliances use nearly as much power on stand-by as they do when they're on.

If you are struggling to pay your bills, contact your supplier to stop the debt piling up; they will be able to help you spread the cost of your bill.

Gas and electricity companies will never disconnect pensioners between October and March, so let them know if you are having problems.

Get financial support
The Pension Service, the Warm Front Scheme and the Home Heat Helpline offer advice to increase energy efficiency and reduce fuel bills.

How do I find out if I am entitled to extra financial help?

To check on your entitlement to any social security benefits and whether you will qualify for the winter fuel and other payments call your local council for details. They can advise you and send out information, in English and community languages, on benefits for people aged 60 and over.

Directgov.com is a government website with information about winter fuel payments, cold weather payments and the Warm Front Scheme.

Department of Health
The Department of Health can also provide you with useful information on keeping warm in winter. 

Picture this…

So this winter, if you’re sat there in your living room, watching TV in your thermals and woolly hat, several layers and drinking tea under a blanket, don’t feel like a silly Billy.

You’re staying alive!