Cold weather tips for people with neurological conditions
In the winter months, everyone is vulnerable to the cold. Some people with neurological conditions can have extra cold-related problems, such as heightened nerve pain when the temperature gets low. We explain how cold temperatures can affect you if you have a neurological condition, and offer tips on staying warm and well in winter.
Why is cold weather an issue?
People with certain neurological conditions may have extra reasons to avoid the cold, such as:
Nerve pain: If you have a condition that involves nerve pain, such as back pain, trigeminal neuralgia or a Chiari malformation, you will find that the temperature has an effect on your symptoms. This is to do with the nervous system and how it reacts to temperature changes. If the temperature is too hot you may feel tired and lethargic – and if it is too cold, this may heighten the pain you feel.
Muscle stiffness: Cold weather can cause muscle stiffness and spasms if you have multiple sclerosis or suffer from spasticity. It’s best to avoid being out in the cold for too long if this affects you.
Loss of sensation: Some people are not able to differentiate between hot and cold. If you have this problem, take extra care not to expose yourself to cold temperatures – or to get too close to fire or radiators if you can’t feel the heat.
Blood pressure: If you are watching your blood pressure, or have vascular problems, you need to take special care to avoid being out for long periods in the cold, and to make sure your home is warm enough. Contact your local GP surgery if you are worried about your blood pressure or would like to get it tested.
Cold-related illness: People with certain chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, are offered a free annual flu jab, to protect against seasonal flu. This is because they may be more susceptible to catching the flu, and may have a higher risk of complications if they catch it. (You can find out more about flu jabs from your local GP surgery.)
Icy conditions: Slippery paths and pavements can be unsafe for anyone, but you should take extra care if you have mobility problems or suffer from dizziness or balance problems.
Dealing with low temperatures
Here are some tips for dealing with the cold weather:
- Wrap up warm! Extra layers, such as thermal underwear, can help keep the heat in. When out and about keep your hands and feet warm with socks and gloves, and wear a winter coat, hat and scarf.
- If you have nerve pain in a particular part of the body, make sure that part is particularly well protected when you go out. For example, keep your face warm with a scarf or a balaclava if you suffer from face pain.
- Hot water bottles and portable heat pads can be useful for extra warmth – and if you’re going on a journey, bring a flask of hot drink.
- Heat your home. The ideal temperature for your main living room is between 18 and 21C, and you should try to keep the temperature above 18C in your bedroom at night. If you are worried about the extra cost of heating your home in winter, there are benefits available that you might be able to get – see below for details.
- Insulate your home. Keep doors and windows shut and close the curtains to keep the heat in. Investigate loft insulation and cavity wall insulation if you don’t have them already – they will save on heating bills and you may be able to get a grant to help with the cost.
- Make sure you are eating and drinking properly, as this will keep your energy levels up and help your body to cope with the colder temperatures. Eat hot meals and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
- If you can, stay active – moving about will improve your circulation, generate heat and make you feel better.
- Alcohol is often thought of as a “winter warmer”, but it can deceive you by making you feel warmer than you really are. The Drinkaware website has more information on drinking alcohol in cold weather.
- If nerve pain is much worse in the cold weather, your doctor might be able to prescribe further medication to help alleviate the symptoms.
- Don’t be tempted to go out when the weather is bad if it’s not really necessary – especially in icy conditions. If you have a friend or neighbour who can check on you or bring round some shopping, ask them to help.
There are several schemes which may be able to help you with the cost of heating bills and insulation.
Winter fuel payments
Winter fuel payments are paid annually to older people, to help with the cost of heating your home during the winter. They are a tax-free payment that is usually made automatically, and they are not means-tested so you are entitled to the payments no matter what your income is.
Read more about winter fuel payments
Warm Home Discount Scheme
For winter 2013 to 2014, you could get a £135 discount on your electricity bill through the Warm Home Discount Scheme.
The discount won’t affect your Cold Weather Payment or Winter Fuel Payment.
Energy grants calculator
The Gov.UK website has a calculator that enables you to check what grants and benefits you may be entitled to.
Other Government schemes
There are different schemes throughout the UK to help with energy costs. Eligibility for these schemes varies, so check on each individual website.
- England and Wales: Energy Saving Advice Service
A telephone line offering offering impartial energy-saving advice to homes and businesses in England and Wales.
Find out more about the Energy Saving Advice Service
- Scotland: Home Energy Scotland
Telephone advisors can answer your questions about heating and insulating your home, saving energy and cutting costs. Home Energy Scotland can also carry out a Home Energy Check with you that will help you to find out about energy efficiency offers that may be available to help you get ready for winter.
Find out more about Home Energy Scotland
- Wales: Nest
Nest aims to help people in Wales reduce the impact of their fuel bills. It offers free advice, a home energy assessment and home improvements to energy inefficient homes.
Find out more about Nest
- Northern Ireland: Warm Homes
The Warm Homes scheme can offer insulation and heating measures to qualifying households.
Find out more about Warm Homes
Cold weather payments
Cold weather payments are paid automatically to people who are on certain income-related benefits when there is a period of exceptionally cold weather.
Read more about cold weather payments
These websites have useful information on keeping warm in the cold weather.
- BBC Weather website: allows you to check the weather forecast in your area
If you have any questions about your condition and how it is affected by the cold weather, contact our Helpline.
Run by neuroscience nurses, the Helpline can provide support and information on all aspects of neurological conditions for patients, their families and carers, and health professionals.
Tel: 0808 808 1000
This information was last checked in October 2013.