18 December 2017

The biggest risks to service users this winter

Winter is a challenging season. The cold and darkness can be overwhelming for some of our service users. Age UK reported that older adults in the British Isles face higher risks in the winter compared to other European countries. So what should we, as healthcare professionals be aware of?

Vitamin D deficiency

Risk: The sun is weaker and out for shorter periods of time in the winter, making it difficult for service users to get enough exposure to produce vitamin D, especially if they have reduced mobility. Lacking vitamin D is bad for your health at any age, but can be particularly dangerous for those over 65 as they have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis [a decrease in bone density that can contribute to broken bones].

Tip: Encourage service users to eat more food sources of vitamin D, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs and milk. Try to get service users outside for up to 30 minutes a day.

Extra advice: 4-ounce serving of salmon offers us 265% of our daily recommended allowance of vitamin D.


Risk: The flu typically peaks in January and February during the brunt of winter and can be a huge killer of vulnerable people. This respiratory illness spreads from person to person, mostly through coughs, sneezes and even talking.

Tip: Service users can receive flu jabs via their GP. Avoid contact with those who are ill and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Extra advice: Those service users who suffer from chronic health problem such as heart disease, respiratory problems, renal disease, diabetes, anemia, or any disease that weakens the body's immune system are more susceptible.

Did you know? In 1918 a flu pandemic killed 50 million to 100 million people around the world.

Heart attacks and high blood pressure

Risk: The cold weather puts more strain on the heart, thickens the blood and makes a clot formation more likely to occur as well as increasing blood pressure. When your body is cold, your heart has to work harder to maintain body heat and keep you warm.

Tip: Ensure service users wrap up warm when going out, use a hot water bottles, heat rooms to at least 18 degrees and advise them to use an electric blanket in bed.

Extra Advice: Wearing two or three thinner layers of loose-fitting clothing is warmer than a single layer of thick clothing.

Did you know? There are an extra 8,000 heart disease deaths throughout winter in the UK.


Risk: Norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Tip: When service users are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it's important to get them to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Loneliness [also known as WinterSADness – Seasonal Affective Disorder]

Risk: Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression which can occur throughout the year, but it typically hits most people in the winter. Service users affected begin to feel the symptoms of depression, including: a loss of energy, an increased appetite and an enhanced feeling of lethargy and tiredness.

Tip: Talk to the service user, find out their interests and the type of experience they are facing, is it isolation or loneliness? Find out what local activities are being planned in the community and sign them up to activities they are able to do: walks, singing groups, book clubs and bridge.

Extra advice: SAD is more likely to strike women and those who live in northern areas where the sun is not as strong or constant.

Did you know? Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company.

If you have questions about how to support our service users this winter, our Clinical Nurse Advisor team are on hand 7 days a week. Just give your branch a ring to talk to one of the team.

**Remember to always check your care plan before taking any action**