Low temperatures can cause health problems for older people. Read our practical tips to help make sure you or a loved one stays warm and comfortable during periods of cold weather.
On this page you will find information on:
1. How to keep warm indoors
2. Heating the home
3. Reducing the risk of getting cold
4. Why we feel colder as we get older
5. Why older people need to maintain their body temperature
How to keep warm indoors
There are several quick ways to help you or a loved one keep warm at home during colder months.
- If it’s cool in your home, make sure you have enough thick, comfortable clothing handy, and that you wear multiple layers when it’s appropriate. Wool helps maintain warmth, whereas cotton provides better ventilation and is usually more suitable for the summer months.
- Sheepskin slippers or bootees are comfortable and great for keeping feet warm.
- ‘Snugs’ are soft, ergonomically designed pillows that fit around the body, providing extra comfort and warmth when sitting or lying down.
- Heated throws are a good option to use on the sofa - choose one with easy-to-use controls.
- Heated chair pads provide comfort and even gently massage your lower back. This can be particularly useful if you have limited mobility and tend to sit in the same position for long periods of time.
- When it comes to bedding, wool duvets are usually best for keeping warm. At lower temperatures, wool provides superior insulation, keeping body heat in and cool air out.
- You can also get heated bedding, including electric under-blankets, or toppers, that fit over the mattress; or electric over-blankets, which lie over the top of the duvet. Find out more about how to buy the best electric blanket on Which? Home and Garden.
Heating the home
To make sure your home stays at a comfortable temperature, it’s important that the property is well insulated. Taking steps to improve insulation can significantly decrease energy bills and also reduce the impact on the environment - find out more on Which? Home and Garden about how to pick the best type of insulation and what are available to help with the cost.
Dealing with heating costs
Often, the cost of heating can be a key issue for older people. The winter fuel payment of £200-300 is available to older people to help with fuel costs. This grant can make a lot of difference throughout the year, but particularly in winter, when it can cost more to heat a property.
On the Home and Garden section of the Which? website there is information about home energy grants. Read also 10 ways to save on energy bills. Which? Trusted Trader also has an article about how to cut the cost of heating your home.
It’s worth noting, too, that some people make significant yearly savings simply by changing their energy supplier. Visit our Which? Switch site and provide a few details about your energy supply to find and choose the best deal for you.
It’s important to ensure that heating units are easy to use and manage. Try to avoid heaters with complicated controls, and always make sure you can reach the dial or remote comfortably. For example, if you usually use a wheelchair, it’s important that the controls are at a suitable height.
Central heating can provide the best coverage throughout the home, but sometimes it might be useful to have portable fan heaters to maintain the temperature in certain rooms. Heaters should never be covered up and they may not be appropriate for people suffering with dementia because they can present a fire hazard if the unit is left on for an extended period of time.
For more information, read the Which? advice guides for electric heaters in Home and Garden.
Reducing the risk of getting cold
There’s a number of other ways you can reduce the risks around increases and decreases in temperature, including introducing home-automation devices and services.
Smart thermostatic devices, for example, can automatically turn the heating up or down, depending on the temperature in the home.
There are many smart systems on the market, all with varying features. If you have a boiler and central heating, you will likely be able to retro-fit them. Some systems allow you to control heating from a laptop, smart phone or tablet, which means you can monitor and regulate the temperature of your home remotely.
Many of these products allow you to pre-set customised heating patterns, so you can set them up to deal with a number of different situations. Some even allow you to set different temperatures for different rooms. This can be handy if, for example, you prefer being warm in the living room and cooler in the bedroom.
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Some units also measure the outside temperature to either increase or decrease the temperature automatically to compensate for extreme weather.
In a similar vein, you can set some gas fires to automatically switch off once the home has reached a certain temperature. This can be really handy if you sometimes leave the heat on at a very high level when the weather gets cold.
If you think someone you care for won't remember to change the temperature without assistance (he or she might have memory problems, for example), it may be better to opt for a smart thermostat that can learn the temperatures they prefer at different times of day.
For more information, check out the Which Home and Garden advice about smart thermostats.
Telecare systems provide peace of mind for older people, particularly those with dementia, and their carers. Systems featuring built-in temperature controls can send an alert to a call centre when the heat is higher or lower than pre-set temperature parameters. The call centre will, in the first instance, call the person and suggest they turn their heating up if it gets too cold. They will also alert the next of kin or healthcare professionals to let them know the person is at risk, in case they need to take action.
Why we feel colder as we get older
As we get older, changes in our bodies can make us feel colder more of the time. Blood pressure can increase as we age age, and blood vessels tend to become stiffer. Meanwhile, our blood becomes stickier, thicker and less efficient at carrying oxygen. This means it can become more difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body.
The system responsible for directing blood vessels to respond to the cold becomes less efficient over time. Also, the layer of fat under the skin that helps to absorb and hold body heat begins to thin as we age.
This contributes to heightened sensitivity to lower temperatures, as well as making older people more susceptible to health problems caused by the cold.
Why older people need to maintain their body temperature
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics demonstrate that there were around 24,300 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2015/16. Unfortunately, many older people in the UK are also faced with the prospect of having to choose between food and paying for heating in the winter months.
It’s particularly important for older people to maintain their body temperature at an optimal level (around 37°C), because letting your body temperature drop below 35°C can lead to serious conditions such as hypothermia.
Hypothermia is potentially dangerous, particularly for older people. NHS Choices offer advice on the signs and symptoms, including what to do if you find someone who has become hypothermic.
Older people may be at greater risk of suffering because of cold temperatures for a number of reasons, including:
- turning the heating off or down to save money
- being less physically aware of changes in temperature due to a medical condition
- lack of appropriate clothing or insufficient nutrition
- conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia mean that the person could forget how to operate the heating system, or no longer recognise when they are cold or warm (or how to respond accordingly)
- some people feel the cold more than others, so their natural reaction can be to turn the heating up to an unnecessarily high level. This can lead to overheating, which can be just as detrimental to their health.
- Medical problems and medication management: advice on vision and hearing problems, dealing with incontinence, and prescription management.
- Assistive technology for older people: find out about electronic products and systems to help older people stay self and well.
- Keeping cool in warm weather: how to reduce the health risks associated with overheating during the summer months.
Page last reviewed: December 2017