Winter tips for the elderly

Older people are particularly vulnerable during the cold winter months. They have to keep their room temperatures higher than younger people to stay healthy and are likely to spend a lot more time indoors. While figures from the Office of National Statistics show a drop in the number of excess winter deaths for the winter of 2010/11, 22,000 deaths are still too many. And with the huge jump in prices that the major energy retailers have brought in this year, this winter looks set to be even more difficult for many people. With more older people feeling the strain financially, this could lead to some cutting back on other basics and taking risks with the cold.

That’s why Independent Age, in conjunction with the Carrick Gazette, has put together Winter Wise.

This small pack contains some top tips on help that’s available to you, ideas to help keep your energy costs down, plus a checklist of some items it might be worth stocking up on before the cold weather really sets in. Make sure you keep the cold at bay with our Winter Wise warm tips and take a look at our Winter Wise Larder List, which should help keep you going for a while if you suddenly find yourself unable to get to the shops because of extreme winter weather. We’ve also included a few recipe ideas that can be created, at low cost, from some of these storecupboard items.

Stay Winter Wise with our top tips on the help and services available to you, which could be of use through the winter months:

1.If you are over 60, whatever your income, you are entitled to a Winter Fuel Payment of between £100 and £300 depending on your age and circumstances.

You should receive money automatically before Christmas with your state pension or benefit. If you haven’t received yours, the Winter Fuel Helpline is 0845 915 15 15.

2.If you need more heat or water because of a disability or medical condition phone the number on your bill and tell them you want to apply for their Social Tariff. 

If you are disabled or exceptionally vulnerable, you can ask your gas or electricity supplier to put you on the Priority Service Register.

3.Did you know that most utility companies have trust funds – money set aside to help customers who are in hardship and unable to pay. For example, if you’re unable to pay your Thames Water rates, the Thames Water Trust Fund might make a grant to meet them and, at their discretion, can help with up to £250 of your essential household bills or priority debts.

4.For information about grants and deals for older people, including free insulation and money for heating improvements, contact the Energy Saving Trust (0800 512 012, Other sources of advice are: your council, Citizens Advice, the Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99,, the charity Shelter (0800 800 4444,, and if you live in housing association or council housing, your housing officer.

5.You are probably already aware that you can do your food shopping online with most supermarkets, but did you know that Sainsbury’s will also take your order by telephone and deliver for a small fee; call them on 0800 328 1700. You’ll need to give your postcode and pay with a debit or credit card.

All of these tips are taken from our free book Wise Guide: Life-improving advice for the over-65s.

For more on the above, plus lots more tips which could help you all year round, please call us for your free copy on 020 7605 4225. Alternatively, you can order a copy on our website:

There is also a free factsheet available on coping with hot and cold weather through our advice service, Counsel and Care. Call 020 7241 8522 for a copy.

During the course of the year, the major energy retailers have introduced huge price increases (about 18%). Older people need to keep their room temperatures higher than younger people to stay healthy - so don’t skimp on heating. But here are five tips to help you save energy and keep your bills down:

1.The Energy Savings Trust can give you a home energy check. Just answer some simple questions about your home and they’ll give you a free, impartial report telling you how you can save up to £250 a year on your household energy bills.

You can complete the questionnaire online at or call them on 0800 512 012 if you need assistance.

2.If possible, fill up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher: one full load uses less energy than two half loads.

3.Only boil as much water as you need (but remember to cover the elements if you’re using an electric kettle).

4.A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they’re fully turned off!

5.Use energy saving lightbulbs.

They last up to 10 times longer than ordinary bulbs, and using one can save you around £45 over the lifetime of the bulb.

This saving could be around £70 over its lifetime if you’re replacing a high wattage incandescent bulb, or one used for more than a few hours a day.

Forecasters are predicting another icy winter this year, but the following practical tips could help you beat the bad weather:

1.Make sure you claim all the help you are entitled to from your energy company by finding out if you are eligible to receive their Social Tariff (these are the lowest offered).

2.Major energy suppliers are obliged to provide a range of free services to certain customers through the priority services register. Find out if you are eligible by calling the Consumer Focus Energywatch helpline on 08459 06 07 08.

If you are entitled to a place, get in touch with your energy supplier to be added to the register.

3.Make sure your home is heat efficient by making the most of help available through schemes such as the Warm Front initiative, and grants from your local council. You can find out more about these by calling the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99. The Home Heat Helpline also produces a factsheet for older people, available on their website,

4.Take practical steps around your home, such as keeping your radiators clear, putting draft excluders around the doors and windows and using heavy or thermal curtains to stop heat escaping from the windows.

5.Prolonged periods of cold weather and snow can be particularly isolating as you could be forced to spend more time at home and some services you rely on may be unable to stick to regular visits. 

If you live by yourself, think about how you can manage the additional risk of feeling isolated. Talk to your family, neighbours or friends and ask them whether they’d be able to visit or call more frequently if the weather is particularly bad.

Winter Wise larder list

You can now do your food shopping online with most supermarkets.

But just in case the weather really takes a turn for the worse and you are worried about getting out, or about deliveries being able to get to you, it may be worth filling your cupboards now with items that will keep.

We have put together a checklist of food items to have at home and which will keep you going should you have to do without new supplies for a few days. For recipe ideas to accompany your larder list, see the next section.

Tinned items: baked beans, soup, tinned pulses such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils, tinned vegetables such as sweetcorn, tomatoes and carrots, tinned tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon and anchovies, tinned meals such as stews, curries and pasta dishes, rice pudding, custard, tinned fruit.

Bottles, jars and cartons: olive/vegetable oil, mayonnaise

vinegar, jam, tomato purée, ready-made tomato sauce such as passata, long-life milk, peanut butter.

Dried goods and packets: egg noodles, pasta and cous cous, vacuum-packed /part-baked, bread or wraps, rice, cereals, porridge, muesli, weetabix, nuts, dried fruit, crackers.

Flavourings and extras: herbs and spices, stock cubes, garlic pureé, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, pesto.

For the fridge: eggs, yoghurt, milk, potatoes and vegetables, mature cheese.

For the freezer; frozen fruit, and vegetables – beans, peas, cabbage, sprouts and mixed berries, fish, fish fingers, Quorn, tofu, milk, chicken, turkey, beef mince, bacon pieces

crumpets, currant buns, teacakes, bread.

To save yourself a trip to the shops in the cold snap, here are a few meal ideas that you can create, at low cost, using some of your storecupboard ingredients.

Storecupboard soup, Storecupboard fish pâté, Speedy tuna and sweetcorn, pasta, Risi Bisi, Bachelor’s pie, Omelette ramekins.

Storecupboard soup

This recipe can be made up using whatever leftovers you have lying around. Here is a basic recipe which can be adapted to whatever you have at home.

Heat 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil in a pan. Add 1 chopped onion and cook on low until the onion is soft. Add any leftover vegetables and cooked meat(chopped) which need using up, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, some dried herbs, black pepper, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a handful of dried red lentils. Cover with stock, stir well and simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the lentils are cooked. Add a drop more stock if the soup is too thick. Pureé if preferred and serve with crusty bread.

Storecupboard fish pâté

This pâté will keep for three days and can be frozen for up to one month. You will need:

1 tin sardines in oil (120g/4oz)

1 tin anchovies in oil (50g/2oz)

1 tin tuna in oil (185g/6½ oz)

Juice of 1 lemon

175g/6oz soft butter

1 small handful of fresh parsley

12 sprigs of dill

Ground pepper

Discard the oil from the tuna. Put the tuna into a food processor with the contents of the tins of sardines and anchovies (including the oil), butter, lemon juice, parsley and half of the dill.

Process until smooth. Season with pepper and salt if you think it needs it.

Garnish with the remaining dill.

Cover and chill.

Speedy tuna and sweetcorn pasta

This is one of the quickest and easiest pasta sauces you will ever make. Drain a can of tuna in springwater and a tin of sweetcorn. Flake the tuna into bowl and add the drained sweetcorn, 1 tbsp of light mayonnaise, and 30g mature grated cheese. Mix well and stir into some cooked, drained hot or cold pasta for a quick and tasty meal.

Risi bisi: Risi bisi translates from Italian as rice and peas. This is a simple but tasty dish that can be made with or without the bacon pieces. This recipe will make enough to feed six. You will need:

50g/2oz butter (or margarine)

1 onion

300g/11oz bacon pieces, chopped small

450g/1lb risotto rice

1litre/2 pints chicken stock

175g/6oz peas

25g/1oz Parmesan cheese (or other hard cheese)

Melt the butter in a pan. Add the onion and bacon and fry for 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir to mix well. Pour in about a third of the stock and simmer until it has been absorbed.

Add another third and continue the process until all of the stock has been used and the rice is cooked and tender. Stir in the cheese.

Bachelor’s pie 

This dish is so simple it requires no educated measuring of quantities. It’s a dish of chopped potatoes layered with a purée of carrots and topped with either melted cheese or a cheese sauce depending whether there is milk in the fridge!

It can be made more glamorous by the addition of crispy fried bacon bits and or Californian raisins to get a sweet and sour finish. Serve with baked beans or peas and you are soon up to three portions of veg!

Omelette ramekins

These are great when you have leftovers that need using up – whether courgettes, carrots, sweet potatoes, or even meat. You can adapt this recipe to use whatever you’ve got. For the base mixture, which will make four ramekins, you will need:

6 eggs

1 tablespoon milk

2 teaspoons plain flour

240g/8½ oz vegetables, cut into small cubes (1cm) (Whatever looks good, or is leftover in the fridge!)

¼ tsp nutmeg

250g/9oz frozen spinach, thawed

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (optional)

Chunk of mozzarella (optional)

You may also want to consider making a simple sauce to go with the ramekin  – tomato and red wine, or mushroom and tarragon works well.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, flour, Parmesan and nutmeg. Squeeze excess liquid from the spinach and add to the mixture.

You want the consistency to be fairly thick, well mixed and not watery.

Cook the vegetables to go in the middle – you could either steam them if you’d prefer it plain, or roast them in a bit of olive oil with garlic and rosemary.

Grease four ramekins. Pour the spinach mixture in until it is a couple of centimetres short of the rim.

Spoon the vegetable mixture into the centre of each one (allowing it to sink). If you’d like mozzarella, then pop a small cube in the centre. Pour a little more spinach mixture over the top.

Cook in a moderate oven (170°C/ gas mark 3) until set. Leave for a couple of minutes before turning out.

Independent Age is a unique and growing charity, providing information, advice and support for thousands of older people across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

It has recently merged with two other older people’s charities, Counsel and Care and Universal Beneficent Society, to provide a broader range of services than any of the charities could provide separately. Visit our website: for more information.