Five tips to avoid becoming cold
Smart thermostatic devices 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, it’s likely you’ll 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.
Some units also measure the outside temperature to 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 don’t think you will remember to change the temperature without assistance, it may be better to opt for a smart thermostat that can learn the temperatures you prefer at different times of day. For more information, check out the Which? Technology guidance on smart thermostats.
If you are worried that a loved one might forget to change the temperature in their home or go wandering on a cold night, telecare systems can provide reassurance.
This technology can include sensors that detect if the temperature falls below (or goes above) a certain pre-set level. They will then send an alert to a call centre or family member. The call centre will, in the first instance, call you and suggest you turn your heating up if it gets too cold. They will also alert the named carer or healthcare professional to let them know the person is at risk, in case they need to take action.
Why do we feel the cold more in older age?
As we get older, changes in our bodies can make us feel colder more of the time. Blood pressure can increase as we 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.
As we get older, changes in our bodies can make us feel colder more of the time.
Why older people need to maintain their body temperature
According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, there were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2017-18 (the highest number in over 40 years). 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 to maintain 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 serious if not treated quickly, particularly for older people. NHS Choices offers advice on the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, 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 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.