Celebrities are supporting a campaign to help the elderly this winter, as new research reveals older people in Britain are concerned about feeling cold and lonely.
Charity Age UK is calling for people to reach out to their elderly neighbours in a bid to reduce the illness, isolation, and risk of death that older people suffer from during the colder months.
“It’s shocking that so many older people die needlessly in the winter months,” actress Dame Helen Mirren said in a statement. “I’d urge everyone to get stuck in this winter and help out older friends, neighbours, and relatives with Age UK.”
Government figures show that 25,000 over 65s could die because of the cold.
A new survey by the charity shows that nearly three-quarters of a million older people don’t know their neighbours and so do not ask for help in winter. In a poll last year, the same number reported feeling lonely and isolated.
Over one-third are also concerned about staying warm at home.
“Older people can struggle to stay warm and well,” Lucy Harmer, Age UK’s head of information and advice, says. “Being alone in winter can intensify some of the mental and physical issues for older people.”
The Big Winter Pledge is part of the campaign and includes popping in to see an older neighbour, helping out when the cold weather hits, and volunteering with Age UK.
Popping in” gives social contact to the elderly, one of the things they find difficult. “Half of older people in the UK consider the TV as their main form of company,” Harmer says.
Studies show that loneliness can have health risks equivalent to obesity and smoking. The colder weather also brings with it an increase in associated health problems, including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems, pneumonia, and depression.
Harmer also says a real issue for people with low incomes is having to choose between the cost of heating the home and the cost of feeding themselves well.
“We want to make sure people have the right income,” she said. “We ask people to get in touch with Age UK, then you can have a benefits check and this will include looking at fuel costs as well, [and] seeing if there are ways older people can be helped to get more money coming in.”
Age UK advise keeping at least one room in the home at 21 degrees C and wearing layers of clothing instead of one thick, wool jumper.
Harmer challenges the myth that leaving a window open is healthy.
“It’s better to make sure that window is shut to keep the room at the right temperature,” she says.
The underlying theme is helping people to stay warm and well. Celebrities are also backing the initiative by donating a coat that will be sold to raise proceeds for the Spread the Warmth campaign.
Spice Girl singer Geri Halliwell said in a statement: “Everybody deserves to keep warm this winter. If you buy my coat it will really help Age UK.”
The government is making £20 million available so local councils can help vulnerable people living in cold housing.
A Department of Health spokesperson said in an email, “Each local authority will be able to share their ideas with us on schemes which help people who suffer in the cold weather, and funding will help make those ideas a reality.”
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