Guest blog: Keeping warm in winter – physiology, behaviour or both?

Snowy scene

This guest blog was contributed by Christopher Eccleston is Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Bath, and the author of ‘Embodied: the psychology of physical sensation’

Winter’s approach reminds us that staying warm is a challenge.  In 2014-2015, in England and Wales alone, there were 36,300 preventable winter deaths due to cold exposure among people age 75 and over. We survive in a narrow core bodily temperature range of only a few degrees – human core temperature is around 37ᵒC, we dip into hypothermia at 35ᵒC and hyperthermia is not far above core temperature – and have to keep within the range when the world outside our bodies is more extreme. Even in England, temperatures have been as low as -26.1ᵒC and as high as 38.5ᵒC.

Continue reading “Guest blog: Keeping warm in winter – physiology, behaviour or both?”

Checking Reading’s temperature…

A thermostat

Age UK is distributing free room thermometers to older people in Reading this winter

Shockingly, Reading had the highest rate of excess winter deaths amongst those aged 65 and over between 2007 and 2010 – that’s equivalent to an average of 109 deaths per year.

With this in mind, Age UK is running a thermometer pilot project across Reading from December 2013 until the end of March 2014. We are enlisting the help of Gas Safety Engineers and health professionals (occupational therapists and intermediate care workers) who frequently visit older people in their own homes.

They are offering two free room thermometers to older people, along with advice on what to do to stay warm and well at home this winter. The aim of the pilot is to help raise awareness of the negative impact that the cold has on older people’s health and help make a positive difference to the 17,900 older people (aged 65 and over) who live in Reading. Continue reading “Checking Reading’s temperature…”

A Lesson from Siberia

Portrait of a old woman in winter

In 1993, two friends and colleagues of mine alighted from an internal flight in the heart of Siberia. The light was failing and the temperature plummeted as they wound their way from the landing strip into an endless forest. They were lost. Eventually, coming upon a wooden settlement, they found shelter with the village teacher, the only English speaker for many, many miles.

Professor Bill Keatinge later confided in me that he had learned two lessons from this incident. One was to learn Russian (which he later did, with some panache). The second was to dress like the Russians. Because Yakutsk, the city which they had come to visit, is the coldest city in the world. During their trip, the temperature fell to a mere -26C. The lowest winter temperatures reach -60.

And what, may we ask, was the attraction of this cold Siberian city? Ironically, the inhospitable, intractable, bone gnawing cold was the motivation for their journey. They were part of the Eurowinter Group, a collection of Europe’s finest scientists, whose mission was to unravel the complicated story of winter deaths in Europe. Until that time, no-one had a convincing explanation (scientists call this a ‘model’) of the pattern of winter deaths in Europe which varied from one country to another. And the prime question was why on earth should the British Isles, with its temperate maritime climate, be the villain of the piece, with many more ‘excess winter deaths’ than its colder European neighbours? Continue reading “A Lesson from Siberia”