The winter cold can pose a risk to us all, but some groups are particularly vulnerable. Look at the list below, and take care of yourself and any family, friends and neighbours who you may be particularly concerned about.
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Who is at risk?
Anyone can be at risk if they ignore some simple measures for keeping warm and healthy. Some people may be particularly at risk during cold weather because of their general health or the amount of support they have.
These include people who:
- Are over 75 years old
- Are frail
- Have pre-existing cardiovascular or respiratory illnesses and other chronic medical conditions
- Have severe mental illness
- Have dementia
- Have learning difficulties
- Have arthritis, limited mobility or otherwise at risk of falls
- Are young children
- Live in deprived circumstances
- Live in homes with mould
- Are fuel poor (needing to spend 10% or more of household income on heating the home)
- Are elderly people living on their own
- Are homeless or people sleeping rough
- Belong to other marginalised groups
What are the risks?
- People slip and fall in the snow or ice causing serious injuries.
- Cold weather increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung illnesses, flu and other diseases.
- Hypothermia- People are at risk of hypothermia if they are exposed to the cold for a long time – this can be outdoors in cold conditions, in a poorly heated room or being in cold water. Hypothermia can occur when a person’s body temperature drops below 35°C (95°F). Normal body temperature is around37°C (98.6°F). Hypothermia can quickly become life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency. As body temperature decreases, symptoms occur including shivering, shallow breathing and confusion; lips and extremities may become blue. Babies may be limp, unusually quiet and refuse to feed. Babies are more prone to developing hypothermia because their bodies’ ability to regulate their temperature isn’t fully developed.
- Alcohol increases the risk of hypothermia as it causes a flow of blood to the skin and extremities, making a person feel warm, while increasing heat loss. If you suspect someone has hypothermia, call 999 and ask for an ambulance
- While waiting for an ambulance, remove any wet clothing and wrap the person in blankets or towels. If they’re conscious, give them something warm (but not alcoholic) to drink. If they’re unconscious, not breathing and you can’t detect a pulse after feeling for 60 seconds at the carotid pulse in the neck, then CPR should be given if possible.
Reducing the risk
Consider what you can do in advance to prepare for cold weather, such as
- Insulating your home, servicing appliances and protecting water pipes from freezing
- Make sure that friends, family and neighbours at risk are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.
- If you are in one of the following risk groups, make sure you have your flu jab: if you are:
- A Child over 6 months old with certain medical conditions
- 65 or over
- Have a serious medical condition
- Are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility (not including prisons, young offender institutions or university halls of residence)
- Are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
- Are a frontline health or social care worker