The Cost of Cold

“When I was young, being cold wasn’t an issue, it never occurred to me it could be a problem. But as I’ve got older staying warm has become my priority. Being older, and less active, it’s so hard to ward off the cold.” Dreda, 94

Winter brings many challenges for us as we get older – dark days mean people get out less, and ice and snow can increase the fear and risk of falling. But research shows that cold is the biggest killer.

Today, Age UK is releasing a new report ‘The Cost of Cold’. It highlights the fact that each winter there are around 27,000 additional deaths in England and Wales, the vast majority among older people.

For each death, there are many more people who become seriously ill, needing hospitalisation in the short term and possibly social care in the longer term. Age UK’s new analysis finds that the cost to the NHS in England from cold homes alone is likely to be around £1.36 billion a year.

Every death or serious illness is a personal tragedy for the individual and family involved – and these deaths are largely preventable. Other colder countries such as Finland have significantly lower death rates, due to better insulated homes and greater awareness of the need to keep warm.

Through our Spread the Warmth campaign, we are highlighting simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and protect their own health, such as keeping their bedroom windows closed at night, or covering their face and hands when out in the cold. Thanks to our partnership with the Met Office we are able to pass on the Cold Weather alerts to older people via our local Age UK partners throughout the winter. Continue reading “The Cost of Cold”

Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alerts 2012

This year as part of our Spread the Warmth campaign we are working with the Met Office, as part of the national Cold Weather Plan, to provide targeted information to the older people who are most at risk when a cold snap is imminent. This guest blog from the Met office sets out how the Cold Weather Plan will work:

Although winter weather and snow can be fun, they are also associated with an increase in illnesses and injuries. Severe cold weather can be dangerous for vulnerable groups such as older people and those with serious illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. With this in mind, the Met Office is working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency again this year to provide the Cold Weather Alerts that inform the Cold Weather Plan for England.

Our Cold Weather Alert service operates in England from 1 November to 31
March every year. Met Office Cold Weather Alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and Age UK centres, to ensure that staff and resources are ready for any cold weather periods and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are informed / made aware and prepared. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed.

Continue reading “Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alerts 2012”

Keep the cold out this winter

Every winter in the UK, there are more than 200 deaths per day as a result of the cold weather. Samantha Nicklin, Senior Campaigns Officer at Age UK finds out why, and what can be done.

At Age UK County Durham, a lady asked about how to use the room thermometers being distributed at a ‘Keep Warm, Keep Well’ roadshow. She told the Development Worker about how her friend had a freezing cold house, but the friend wouldn’t take any notice when told that it was too cold for her. The lady took two thermometers away for her friend.

A week later, the lady phoned the office to explain that her friend had put the thermometers up, one in the bedroom and one in the living room, and was shocked to discover how cold her house was. She turned up the heating a little until the thermometers were in the ‘comfortable’ zone. The lady said her friend now feels much better and not as tired as she had been feeling.

Simple actions like this save lives. Older people who live in cold homes are at risk of becoming seriously ill. Exposure to the cold causes blood pressure to rise, increasing the risk of heart attacks and stroke in the winter months. But the risks can be reduced by taking simple actions, like eating an extra hot meal every day, keeping the living room warm during the day and closing bedroom windows at night.

Making sure older people know the health risks, and most importantly, what action they can take stay warm and well, Age UK is distributing Winter Wrapped Up information guides, which come with two free thermometers, so that older people can monitor their room temperature at home and make sure they keep warm when the temperature drops. Age UK is also distributing a recipe book called Keep the Cold Out This Winter, which contains seven winter warmer recipes, and important tips for reducing the risk of illness.

Recent research shows that older people often ignore important messages about keeping warm in winter because they dismiss the information as ‘common sense’. Age UK research found that older people are more likely to take steps to keep warm if they are reminded about the health risks of exposure to the cold and of what actions they can take to reduce their risk.

That’s why Age UK is working with the Met Office to receive Cold Weather Alerts when a cold snap is imminent. We will be informed three or four days in advance of a cold snap that the temperature is likely to drop to below 2°C and stay cold for 48 hours or longer if there is heavy snow or widespread ice.

Every older person deserves to be protected from the potentially life-threatening consequences of the cold and so Age UK will be delivering vital information and services throughout the winter months, helping thousands of older people.

For more information about the campaign, or to order our winter resources, please contact Samantha Nicklin, Senior Campaigns Officer on 020 3033 1431 or email Samantha.Nicklin@ageuk.org.uk

Find out more about our Spread the Warmth campaign

 

 

 

The Tip of the Iceberg

In 1841, Registrar General William Farr, a distinguished mathematician and physician who famously said to Florence Nightingale, ‘Statistics should be as dry as dust’ produced the first report which identified a seasonal excess of deaths in the British winter.  Some 170 years later, we are still recording a yearly excess of between 20 and 40,000 winter deaths.  And by far the greatest numbers of those dying in the winter are those over 65, for many of whom both physiology and social conditions create a special vulnerability.

It has taken generations of scientists to unravel the causes of winter mortality.  The evidence is now clear on cause – it is the cold that is the killer.  All other factors, except in conditions of epidemic influenza, pale into insignificance.  So precise is this relationship that it has been calculated at 8,027 extra deaths for every 1°C the winter is colder than the average.  Paradoxically, this algorhythm applies only to the United Kingdom.  The irony is that the colder countries of the world – such as the Nordic lands, Russia, Canada and so on – have much lower winter mortality than the ‘warm’ UK.  It is an amazing truth that Yakutsk, the coldest city on earth with average winter temperatures of – 30°C, has virtually no seasonal fluctuation in mortality.  How can this be?

The answers are peculiarly British. Our heritage of an old and poorly insulated housing stock has meant that for years many have been consigned to winters spent in indoor cold, unable to afford their heating bills.  Add to that the exceptionally cold winters of recent years, rising energy prices and declining winter fuel benefits, we have a lethal cocktail of risk.  Fuel poverty is a real and vital issue for increasing numbers of older people.

But the evidence shows that indoor cold is only half of the story.  Deaths in the winter are largely due to respiratory illness and disease caused by blood clotting, the so-called ‘thrombotic illnesses’ of heart attack and stroke. Over the last few decades we have seen a reduction in deaths from respiratory illness in the winter, brought about it is thought by improving indoor warmth.  What has not declined is the mortality through heart attack and stroke.  These conditions are more dependent on going out into the cold, insufficiently protected by our winter clothes.  If you doubt this, look at the typical British wardrobe: how many of us have a separate winter edition? And how many of us frequently take trips outside without hat, scarf, gloves and coat? And so we are ambushed by winter cold.

Even a conservative estimate shows that the British winter, since Farr’s first report, will have been responsible for over 3 million deaths, deaths which we now know are entirely avoidable.  No wonder research tells us that older people in Britain fear the winter more than any of their European neighbours.  The question is, then, how may these deaths be avoided? Physiologists will tell you that ‘man is a tropical animal’: we must stay warm in order to stay well.  That is why Age UK, working with the Met Office, has taken the best scientific advice to launch its campaign ‘Spread the Warmth’. On the basis of new and compelling evidence, we are advising older people of the risks of both indoor and outdoor cold in an effort to stem the ‘British disease’.   And with DH, we are joining the Met Office as it seeks to alert the public of impending severe cold.  

Some estimates have said that 2,700 people every winter die because of fuel poverty. This is only the tip of a huge iceberg of winter deaths brought about by cold.  By translating the best research evidence into practice and by working with others, we are attempting win the war against the British winter.

Find out more about the Spread the Warmth campaign

Read Met Office guest blog

 

Met Office Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alert Service

This year, our Spread the Warmth campaign is working with the Met Office and Department of Work and Pensions as part of the national Cold Weather Plan to provide targeted information to the older people who are most at risk, when a cold snap is imminent. The guest blog  below from the Met office sets out how the Cold Weather Plan will work:

There is a strong link between the weather and health, especially during cold weather in winter, with the elderly being especially vulnerable. As a result, this winter the Met Office has teamed-up with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to provide a Cold Weather Alert Service.

We have developed a range of alerts with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to pinpoint when winter weather will impact on people’s health. These alerts will be issued if mean temperatures are below 2 °C for 48 hours or longer, if there is heavy snow or widespread ice.

The alerts will be produced by the Met Office and will operate inEnglandfrom 1 November to 31 March. They will be sent to NHS Trusts inEngland, as well as being made available on our website and in other media.

We will also be working with AgeUK to provide their centres inEngland with the Cold Weather Alerts helping to keep the most vulnerable people well this winter.

The alerts are split into four different categories:

Level 1 – indicates winter preparedness and long-term planning and will be in place from the start of the monitoring period. This is the minimum state of vigilance during the winter. During this time social and healthcare services will ensure that there is ongoing awareness and preparedness

Level 2 – this will be triggered as soon as the risk is 60% or above for any of the three thresholds to be breached. This is an important stage for social and healthcare services who will be working to ensure readiness and swift action to reduce harm from a potential period of cold weather.

Level 3 — this will be reached when we are experiencing weather which breaches any of the three thresholds. This stage requires social and healthcare services to target specific actions at high-risk groups.

Level 4 – this will only be triggered when a period of cold weather is so severe or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. A Red level warning would be issued on advice from, or in collaboration with our Government partners. At this level, health effectsmay occur among the fit and healthy, and not just in high-risk groups.

With up to 27,000 extra deaths each year as a result of cold weather, it is vital that we increase the awareness of the effects of cold weather on health. Our warning is designed to help people prepare for prolonged spells of cold weather and aims to reduce the number of extra deaths each year.

Last year was the coldest December in 100 years with many areas experiencing significant snowfall, widespread ice and low temperatures. Some areas saw temperatures fall as low as -20 °C overnight.

Statistics produced by the Department of Health show that for every 1°C decrease in average winter temperature inEnglandthere are approximately 8,000 extra deaths. This is why it is vital to stay one step ahead of the weather and make sure people ‘Keep Warm and Keep Well’ this winter.     

Find out more about the Spread the Warmth campaign

Find out more about the Cold Weather Alert Service