Helping older people keep warm and well
The University’s Health and Temperature Research Group (HTRG) generates research focused on cold-related ill health. Its Keeping Warm in Later Life Project (KWILLT) provides a unique understanding of the complex environment and multiple factors influencing older people keeping warm and well in winter. Beneficiaries include NHS, local and national policy makers, and practice organisations.
The findings of the KWILLT research, started in 2009, led to an improved understanding of health behaviour and inequalities in groups vulnerable to cold related illness and death. This understanding translated into changes in policy and practice across disciplines including health, housing and environment, energy and welfare.
The KWILLT project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and conducted by the University's HTRG in partnership with NHS Rotherham. Through robust qualitative inquiry with a sample of older people and staff, alongside objective temperature measurement, KWILLT has generated findings in four main areas.
First, it identified the complex and varied influences on vulnerable older people's decision-making regarding heating and cold at home. Second, KWILLT revealed that, in order to access help, vulnerable people have to navigate a system that is fragmented, with findings illustrating how this conspires particularly against older people keeping warm and well.
Third, KWILLT generated an understanding of the barriers health and social care staff encounter in identifying, assessing and intervening in the lives of older people at risk of cold related ill health. A segmentation model was developed describing six groups of older people vulnerable to being cold, and their core characteristics. These helped public and voluntary sector organisations identify vulnerable populations.
Finally, HTRG analysed KWILLT findings alongside existing evidence to address policy implementation. The Department of Health recently launched its first Cold Weather Plan highlighting evidence gaps about the identification of those vulnerable to the cold and developing appropriate interventions to reduce temperature related illness. The latter stages of KWILLT (e.g. the segmentation model) and further work of the HTRG aim to address this evidence gap.
In order to reach a wider community with KWILLT findings, videos and e-learning materials based on its data and the segmentation model were created and made available on the KWILLT website. The site had received over 100,000 hits by July 2013.
Influence in national policy was realised through the 2013/14 Department of Health Cold Weather Plan which recommended KWILLT to stakeholder groups as a toolkit for practice, and cited it as important supporting evidence for the plan. Also the DECC Fuel Poverty Team has used the electronic KWILLT outputs to think about ways of overcoming barriers to access for vulnerable householders, and to stimulate thinking on how to reach them. The project has also contributed evidence to national consultations such as Hills Fuel Poverty review. In addition, it has informed the development of Winter Warmth England (WWE) content and its target audiences.
Within the region, KWILLT materials have facilitated collaboration at a strategic and policy level and helped Local Government Yorkshire and Humber identify areas with vulnerable populations so it can target interventions accordingly. In public and policy debate, findings have been used to discuss and influence local preparedness for winter, for example at Local Area Assemblies. And in front line services it has informed staff training, from NHS health and social care staff through the Making Every Contact Count programme to local authority housing department gas contractor training. Partnership interventions such as South Yorkshire Hotspots have also used KWILLT findings and outputs in their staff training.
As a result of the research and following the REF submission, additional funding was secured to develop the methods used during KWILLT to explore the barriers, attitudes and values of families living in cold homes. The Warm Well Families (WWF) research report and resources are now available online.