Preparing for and coping with winter
Keep your home warm and energy efficient
Cold homes can make conditions such as rheumatoid disease and arthritis worse than usual. Cold homes also increase the level of minor illnesses such as colds and flu.
If you're not very mobile, are 65 or over, or have a health condition, such as heart or lung disease, then you should try to heat your home to at least 18°C.
There is a lot of independent energy advice and financial help available both locally and nationally. Some of the different sources of information and advice are listed later in this document.
Switching to gas central heating can save households up to £350 each year off annual fuel bill. If you haven’t already got a central heating system in your home, then you might be able to get one installed at no cost from the Staffordshire Warmer Homes initiative.
Staffordshire Warmer Homes support is available to people who do not have gas central heating and who:
- claim benefits or tax credits
- have low or no income
- are disabled
- are elderly
- have very young children
- receive one of a range of benefits
If you would like to apply or find out more about the scheme you can see the website or phone 0333 202 4481.
Get your flu jab
Flu affects people in different ways. If you are healthy you will usually shake it off within a week, but flu can be a major killer of vulnerable people.
Flu vaccination is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at most at risk from the effects of flu. This is to protect them from catching flu and developing serious complications. Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from COVID-19 and the free vaccine is more important than ever, to help protect the nation from a double threat this winter.
Flu usually starts from December onwards so if you are vaccinated in November you should benefit from its protective effect.
The injected flu vaccine is also offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are at risk. You can get your NHS flu vaccine at:
- your GP surgery
- a local pharmacy offering the service
The following groups are eligible for the NHS vaccine
- People aged 65 years old or over
- Pregnant women
- Children aged 2-11 years old
- People who have certain medical conditions
- People who are living in a long-stay residential care home or another long-stay care facility
- People who receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if they fall ill
- Household contacts of somebody on the NHS shielded patient list for Covid-19
New groups eligible for 2020/21
- Children in school year 7 (secondary school)
- Household contacts of those on the NHS Shielded Patient List
- Frontline health or social care workers
Advice for people aged 50 to 64
If you're aged 50 to 64 and have a health condition that means you're more at risk from flu, you should get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.
Other 50- to 64 year-olds will be contacted about a flu vaccine later in the season.
Try to keep active
If you find you feel the cold more than you used to, that's totally normal. From about the age of 55, we lose around 1% of our muscle mass every year. It doesn't sound a lot, but muscle is what keeps us warm. Keeping active generates heat to help keep your body, hands and feet warm.
Try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time. If walking is difficult, you can do chair-based exercises. Even simply moving your arms and legs and wiggling your toes will get your circulation going.
Don't hide from the light!
It's not unusual to feel a bit blue in the winter months. When the weather's miserable and the evenings are darker, it can be harder to get out and about and do the things you enjoy. As the days become shorter, it can disrupt your normal sleep patterns, and the lack of sunlight can make you sleepy during the day.
Open your blinds or curtains as soon as you get up to let more sunlight into your home, and get outdoors in natural daylight as much as possible. Try to take a brief lunchtime walk, and make sure your work and home environments are as light and airy as possible.
Normally, our bodies create vitamin D from sunlight and we need it for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. However, during the winter months the sun isn’t strong enough for our bodies to make vitamin D, and it’s difficult to get the amount we need from our diet. You might want to speak to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement for a little boost over winter.
You may qualify for help with heating costs
It’s always worth checking if you are getting what you are eligible for. If you are a UK resident living at home and are 65 or older, you should be getting your winter fuel payment. You could get between £100 and £300 to help you pay your heating bills. This is known as a winter fuel payment. You usually do not need to claim Winter Fuel Payment. You should get it automatically if you’re eligible.
You might also be eligible for a cold weather payment if the weather stays below freezing for 7 or more days. You can find out if an area has been cold enough to qualify on the website. Like the winter fuel payment, you should get it automatically if you are eligible.
There is a lot of independent energy advice about keeping warm and available grants, both nationally and from a number of charities across Staffordshire. They are listed at the end of this page.
Dispelling myths about coping with winter
A warm bedroom is not bad for your health
In fact, 18 °C (64 °F) is the ideal temperature for your bedroom. Keep your bedroom at that temperature all night if you can.
- Do not leave your bedroom window open when it’s cold. Breathing in cold air lowers body temperature and raises the risk of chest infections, heart attacks and strokes.
- Use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed – but do not use both at the same time!
- Have at least 1 hot meal a day. Eating regularly helps keep you warm
- Have hot drinks regularly, have one before bed and keep one in a flask by your bedside
It is important to get your flu vaccination every year
Flu viruses are always changing, so you need a jab every year, using the latest vaccine.
The flu vaccination is very effective
The vaccine will not stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it’s true that it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free. But, you are still less likely to catch the flu than you would have been. And even if you do get the flu after vaccination, it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
The flu vaccine is safe
The flu vaccines used in the national programme have a good safety record. Serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. It is possible that you may get a mild fever and slight muscle aches for a day or so, but it’s nowhere near as bad as getting the flu. You cannot catch flu from the flu vaccine.
Carers are eligible for a free flu jab too
If you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person you should be offered a free flu jab. You should also be offered one if you're receiving Carer's Allowance. Ask your GP surgery or local pharmacist about having a flu vaccine along with the person you care for. You can also read more about the flu vaccine for carers on the Carers UK website.
Energy advice and grants
- The National Winter Helpline (open October - March):
- Simple Energy Advice can offer advice on reducing bills and making your home more energy efficient.
- Staffordshire Warmer Homes may be able to help you with installing free gas central heating if you don’t already have it.
- Beat the Cold provide independent energy advice services across:
- Staffordshire Moorlands district
- Cannock Chase district
- East Staffordshire borough
- Newcastle-under-Lyme borough
They also have funding to help you anywhere in the county. Beat The Cold can be contacted by phone: 01782 683813
- Home Energy Advice Tamworth (HEAT) is Tamworth Borough Council’s free and impartial energy advice service. HEAT can assess your eligibility and provide support through the application process if you need it. They can be contacted by:
- The MEA (Marches Energy Agency) is a registered charity delivering independent advice and practical solutions to reduce fuel poverty and cold homes. MEA provide energy advice to householders in conjunction with councils.
- If you live in Stafford Borough, contact Warmer Homes Stafford
- If you live in the South Staffordshire district, contact Warmer Homes South Staffordshire
- Warmer Homes Greener District provide independent energy advice in Lichfield district. They can be contacted on:
Staying well during the winter
There are also a lot of great sources of advice on staying well during the winter:
Daily living equipment and technology can also help people to manage their everyday tasks and stay independent in their own homes. Take a look at our ‘interactive house’ to find out what equipment could help.
#DoingOurBit – What one thing can you do?
Older neighbours, friends and relatives can be more vulnerable in the winter months and may need a little extra help. As family, friends and neighbours we can help older people keep warm and safe during winter.
Regular checking in to make sure they're safe and well, have enough food and are warm will make all the difference.