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Somerset GPs are reminding us all to look out for elderly relatives, friends and neighbours this winter, especially during the colder weather.

Last winter, about 23,200 people in England died as a result of cold weather. This is significantly lower than the 50,100 figure for the previous year but many of these deaths, most of which were among the over 75s, could still have been prevented.

The elderly, people with disabilities and those living alone are particularly vulnerable at this time of year, especially if they are living with a long term condition such as chronic lung disease, heart disease or asthma. They may also be feeling lonely and isolated if they are unable to leave the house, which can carry risks for both their mental and physical health.

Dr Andrew Tresidder, GP Safety Lead at Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “It only takes a few minutes to drop in for a chat and a cup of tea with a neighbour. They may not have seen or spoken to anyone for days and it can really help to see a friendly face. You could even offer to help them get some shopping or pick up their prescription from the pharmacy.

“Cold weather can have serious health implications for elderly or vulnerable people, so it’s really important to check in on those who are most at risk at least once a week and more often during really cold spells. It’s also essential to make sure they are keeping warm by wearing appropriate clothing for the weather and heating their homes to at least 18°C to 21°C. Regular hot drinks and at least one hot meal a day can make all the difference. And try to encourage them to move around if they can.

“Older people have an increased risk of having a fall which could result in serious injury, as well as a loss of confidence. If a fall occurs when they are alone at home, they may not be able to get up or call for help. Their injury could worsen if it is not treated, and this could lead to a stay in hospital. Icy conditions are a big risk factor for falls so offering to assist elderly neighbours with gritting or clearing driveways and paths can be a great way to help.”

Dr Tresidder added this advice: “At the first sign of a winter illness, visit your local pharmacy. Pharmacists are clinically trained and will be able to offer you expert advice on the medicines they provide and will also tell you if they think it’s necessary for you to see your GP. And make sure you’ve had your flu jab this year – it’s free for over 65s, people living in a care or residential home, pregnant women and people living with a long term condition. Just ask at your local pharmacy or GP practice for further advice.”

What can you do to help keep yourself and others safe and well this winter?