Charity – Over 65s…How to Stay Safe, Warm & Well This Winter

As winter’s icy grip tightens around the UK, a groundbreaking study by the respected health and wellbeing charity, Royal Voluntary Service, in collaboration with Yakult UK, has unveiled the significant toll the season takes on the older population.

The study reveals that 46% of individuals aged 65 and above confess they “dread the winter,” with another 50% admitting the season wreaks havoc on their emotional well-being. The factors that most significantly impact on mood during winter include reduced daylight hours (46%), the biting cold weather (44%), and, in light of the current financial strain faced by many, the exorbitant home heating bills (43%).

The “Stay Safe, Warm and Well” guide, a treasure trove of essential information, has been created to help older and vulnerable people navigate these treacherous months. It encompasses money-saving tips, energy conservation strategies, and vital contacts for mental health support, in addition to delicious recipes brimming with mood-boosting ingredients.

The colder months are also associated with a significant increase in the number of deaths among older people, often referred to as “excess winter deaths.” These deaths are frequently caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, which can be exacerbated by the cold weather. For example, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that an estimated 13,400 more deaths occurred in the winter period of December 2021 to March 2022, compared to the average of the non-winter periods.

Winter can be an isolating time for older people, particularly those who live alone or have mobility issues. The snow and ice can make it difficult for them to leave their homes, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression. A report from the ONS indicates that 19% of those aged 70 years and above report feeling lonely always.

Older people are more vulnerable to flu and other winter illnesses, which can be more severe and even fatal in this age group. To help protect them, the UK government offers free flu vaccinations to people aged 65 and over, which the guide also advises on.

The risk of falls and injuries increases during the winter months due to icy and slippery conditions. Falls can have serious consequences for older people, leading to fractures and other injuries that can affect their mobility and independence. People aged 65 and older have the highest risk of falling, with around a third of people aged 65 and over, and around half of people aged 80 and over, falling at least once a year. Falls can result in distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence, and even mortality.

To assist older people during the winter months, various support services are available, such as the Winter Fuel Payment, a government scheme that provides financial assistance to help with heating costs, and The Priority Services Register. As advised by partner of the guide, Cadent Gas, the PSR is a free service for people who might need extra support because of their communication, access or safety needs. It allows energy companies to provide additional help for people without power, gas or water supply either in an emergency or because of planned works.

One area where older people can take back a bit of control, however, is food. The study revealed that 43% of over 65s were unaware of the impact that diet can have on their mood.

People are being encouraged to try ‘Happy Plate’ recipes as a simple yet effective way to boost their mood during the winter months. ‘Happy Plate’ recipes are delicious recipes developed by top chef, Rosemary Shrager, that include mood-boosting ingredients. Recipes include Oat-coated chicken breast with lentils and roasted red onion, Baked salmon in a peanut sauce, accompanied by broccoli and bacon, and Beef tagine, served with mashed potatoes, olives, and a side of greens.

These recipes are launched as part of Royal Voluntary Service’s “Stay Safe, Warm and Well” campaign, which includes a free annual guide to inform older people of the best ways to prepare and look after themselves during the winter months.

Top foods to boost mood as identified by Yakult’s team of nutritionists, include:

· Eggs (tryptophan)
· Chicken or turkey (tryptophan, B vitamins, and zinc)
· Leafy greens (tryptophan, magnesium, omega-3, and folate)
· Wholegrain cereals (carbohydrates, magnesium, and B vitamins)
· Oats (carbohydrates, magnesium, and folate)
· Oily fish (omega-3)
· Quorn (zinc) and Tofu (zinc)
· Nuts (magnesium, zinc, and carbohydrates) and seeds (magnesium and carbohydrates)
· Liver (B vitamins, folate, and zinc)
· Avocado (folate and B vitamins)
· Broccoli (vitamin C, folate, and B vitamins)
· Legumes (tryptophan, folate, and zinc)
· Potatoes (vitamin C, B vitamins, and carbohydrates)
· Berries, oranges, and other citrus fruits (vitamin C)

But outside of food, what else can we do to prepare?
Stock up on essentials to minimise unnecessary trips outside, and make sure all prescriptions are filled. Reach out to a trusted friend, volunteer, or neighbour who can assist with shopping and medication. Get to know your neighbours and keep a list of useful contacts handy, some of which are included in the Stay Safe, Warm and Well guide. In case of a power cut, make sure you have torches, a battery-powered radio, and spare batteries accessible. It is also worth familiarising yourself with the location of your water stopcock and electricity and gas meters.

Staying warm is crucial. Drink plenty of hot drinks and keep a flask handy if your mobility is limited. Set heating to regular times and maintain a home temperature of at least 18°C, especially in frequently used rooms. Close windows at night to reduce the risk of chest infections, and wear layers of cozy clothes to trap warmth. Check that your pipes are adequately lagged and your roof is properly insulated. Consider using a heated blanket or hot water bottle as a cost-effective alternative to heating a room. Don’t forget to explore the benefits, grants, and discounts you may be entitled to, such as pension credits, winter fuel payments, and insulation.

Regular maintenance of boiler and gas appliances is essential. Have them serviced annually by a Gas Safe Registered Engineer and check the condition of your external pipework to prevent them freezing. It’s important to know the symptoms of CO poisoning, which are explained in the guide, along with what to do if you notice symptoms. Install audible CO alarms and test them regularly. Have your chimneys and flues cleaned and swept annually to prevent blockages.

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is a free service for those who might need extra support due to communication, access, or safety needs. It allows energy companies to provide additional help in emergencies or during planned works. Keep your free emergency contact numbers handy, and the guide advises who to call for meter problems, gas appliance and boiler problems and power cuts, and advises what to do if you smell gas.

Lastly, saving money on energy bills can be as simple as making small changes, such as putting a lid on your pan while cooking, turning off lights and switching appliances off from standby when not in use, and lowering your thermostat by one degree.

To support the community further Royal Voluntary Service will be hosting a series of ‘Stay Safe, Warm and Well’ events on the charity’s Virtual Village Hall, a free online activity hub and community platform. This includes a Stay Warm session with Cadent Gas on 27th November and Happy Plate cook-alongs during a themed “Eat Well Week” in the week of 22nd January. These events aim to provide older people and the vulnerable with the tools and knowledge they need to navigate the winter months safely and healthily, ultimately improving their quality of life during this challenging time.

To download the free Stay safe, warm and well guide, visit