Winter is coming …
If you’re a fan of the popular TV series Game of Thrones, you’ll recognise this phrase as the stark warning to be prepared and vigilant ahead of the coldest months.
In the health service, winter is often associated with hospital pressures and Emergency Department admissions.
At this time of year, the most common cause of admissions is respiratory illness.
People aged over 75 years make up approximately 60% of all emergency attendances every year, and research also shows that older people are often those who require admission.
It is therefore vital that older people, and anyone of any age with a long-term health condition such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease, take some early precautions to help keep healthy and stay well, as cold weather can be particularly hard on these groups.
Just as we prepare our homes or cars for winter, we should make sure we are winter-ready too and one of the most important ways to prepare is to get the flu jab.
Older people, those with long-term conditions, pregnant women and young children are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults, because our immune defences become weaker with age or ill-health.
There are other measures people can take to stay well this winter.
Keeping warm is very important and you can do this by dressing in layers.
Dressing in thin layers can help trap body heat more effectively than wearing one heavy jumper.
You should also ensure you’re eating well too.
Hearty winter warmers such as stews, porridge and soups can be nourishing, and will help keep your body healthy and better able to fight off infections.
If you are at home most of the day, ensure the rooms you use are heated to at least 18 degrees.
If you’re worried about the cost of heating your home, help and advice about Cold Weather Payments or the Winter Fuel Payment is available on the NI Direct website.
For those who are able, it is important to try to keep moving over the winter period as even stretching or walking around the house can provide health benefits and improve circulation.
Those with heart or respiratory problems, however, should stay indoors during a particularly cold spell.
While it is tempting to curl up on the sofa all winter, it’s important to try and keep up friendship links or attend group activities.
Socialising can help lift your mood, ward off depression, strengthen your immune system by keeping you active and reduce your stress levels.
If you have friends or neighbours who may be vulnerable, it’s a good idea to check in on them.
Your local pharmacist is also a good source of advice if you start to feel under the weather.
Pharmacists can help you manage minor illness and ensure you’re using your medicine correctly.
Community pharmacies are also very accessible as there is usually one on a high street near you.
• Dr Carolyn Harper is Director of the Public Health Agency
The Stay Well This Winter campaign is a joint campaign by the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency to encourage people aged 65 or over and those with long-term health conditions to take some early precautions to ensure they stay well. For further information, please visit the website www.nidirect.gov.uk/stay-well