Over the past seven years there has been a three-fold increase in the number of older people admitted to hospital with respiratory illness.

Respiratory conditions spike when there is a drop in temperature, so for every 1 degree drop below 5 degrees Celsius, there will be a 10.5 per cent increase in people aged 65 and over affected.   Age UK claim that one older person dies every seven minutes from cold weather.

As we get older, our immune systems become a bit weaker.  This means that we are more susceptible to some viruses.  But it is possible to take some preventative steps, to avoid a minor cough or cold becoming something more serious that means an older relative, friend or neighbour ends up having to be admitted to hospital.

Hospital is the best place for someone if they are seriously ill, but being in a hospital bed for a length of time can take its toll.  For example, spending 10 days in bed can lead to between 10-14 per cent loss of leg and hip strength.

There are some simple steps we can all take, to help keep an older relative, friend or neighbour fit and well this winter.

Seven steps:

  1. Make sure they have a well-stocked medicine cabinet, with remedies for high temperatures, coughs, colds, sore-throats and upset stomachs. Coughs and colds should begin to improve within a few days, but if you have any concerns take them to see their local pharmacist – don’t wait until it gets worse. Check they are up to date with their pneumonia vaccination and have had a flu jab
  2. They need to keep warm. Age UK has some useful general information; and advice about what to do you have any concerns https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/mind-body/preparing-for-winter/
  3. Make sure that your relative, friend or neighbour stays connected and has regular conversations with other people – even if it’s sometimes by phone. Isolation can have a negative impact on someone’s emotional and mental health
  4. If they have an existing lung condition, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseasespeak to the practice nurse or GP to see if it would be useful for them to have an emergency ‘Rescue Pack’ – medication they can take straight away if their condition starts to get worse
  5. If you are ill yourself, don’t visit for a few days until your symptoms have improved – you don’t want to pass on any viruses. Encourage your older friend or relative to regularly wash their hands, especially if they’ve been out, to minimise the chance of them picking up any germs
  6. If you have any concerns about them, your GP practice will be happy if you call and ask for advice over the phone.You don’t have to wait until the morning or the next working day to speak to someone – support and advice is also available in the evenings, weekends and over the holidays, either from an out of hours GP service or by calling NHS111.

Prevention is key.  If you have any concerns about an older relative, friend or neighbour, get advice early.  Speak to your pharmacist or GP practice.  You can also find useful information on line.

More information is also available from https://www.england.nhs.uk/north/our-work/simple-steps-to-keep-older-relatives-and-friends-well-this-winter/