More work is needed to prevent older people dying of the cold

New figures released last week revealed a slight increase in the number of excess winter deaths in Wales last winter.

Provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed 1,800 older people died of the cold in Wales in the winter of 2016/17, up slightly from 1,790 the previous winter.

Although this is much lower than the winter of 2014/15, which saw the biggest rise in Wales in sixteen years with 2,580 excess winter deaths, it is still unacceptably high.

We have been lucky to have relatively mild winters in the last couple of years, but make no mistake, a harsh winter will mean higher numbers of older people dying of cold.

Those aged 75 and over are the most vulnerable to winter deaths, and many succumb to preventable respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.

These preventable health problems are often psychologically and physically distressing to older people, many of whom experience new and unfamiliar challenges in day-to-day living, so it is of crucial importance that they receive help and support as early as possible.

It is also important for us as a nation to look after our older people, as 20 per cent of Wales’ population is aged 65 and over, This means a significant percentage of the population is vulnerable to age-related illness, which puts the NHS under enormous stress during the winter months.

Prevention is always better than cure, and supporting older people to live independently can have a huge effect on the prevention of illness and death, and an enormous positive affect on their quality of life.

Here at Care & Repair, we believe older people should be supported to live independently for as long as possible. We are able to do this thanks to the fact our Care & Repair Agencies cover every part of Wales, which means we are able to cut workloads for the NHS.

But issues go deeper than age-related illnesses. Many older people also suffer from loneliness, which some experts believe can be as bad for health as big killers such as smoking or obesity. Just like smoking and obesity, death by loneliness is preventable, which is why we send individual case handlers to the homes of older people who are suffering. These visits help older people talk about their welfare rights and other issues they are facing such as being able to afford their heating bills. 

A technical officer also visits the property to judge what needs to be put in place to create a warmer temperature and to prevent tripping or falling so older people can live as well and as comfortably as possible.

A visit from a technical officer will typically result in improved safety, better quality of life and fewer distressing visits to the hospital or GP.

The lesson we must all learn from the figures for excess winter deaths is that we can do so much more for older people before they have to visit the hospital due to a preventable disease.

If you would like to help an older person live as independently as possible, you could kindly donate money through our website, or you can make small changes in your own community by making sure your older neighbours are not suffering with everyday tasks, and check in on them to make sure they are not suffering from potentially life-threatening loneliness. 

This year Care & Repair Cymru is taking part in The Big Give’s Christmas Challenge campaign, providing the charity with a unique opportunity to double all donations received between Tuesday 28 November and Tuesday 5 December.

Last year the charity supported more than 46,000 people and helped to make nearly 12,000 homes safer and more secure.

The Big Give’s Christmas Challenge 2017 goes live at midday on Giving Tuesday, 28th November and runs until midday on Tuesday 5th December.

Care & Repair Cymru are calling for all supporters to spread the message far and wide in a bid to raise a target of at least £8,000 during the campaign week.