Victorian pensioners are needing treatment for hypothermia, after suffering dangerously low body temperatures in their own homes, in a “concerning” trend.
A study of hypothermic emergency presentations between July 7, 2009, and September 1, 2016, to Alfred Health was prompted by a record-breaking cold winter in 2015.
It found older people who suffered hypothermic episodes at home were more likely to die than younger people with similar symptoms found outside.
The study also highlighted that more than half of elderly patients who presented to hospital with hypothermia lived alone and had few social supports and almost three quarters of them were on a pension.
It’s the first study of its kind looking at the issue in Victoria, which is Australia’s second coldest state behind Tasmania.
“The finding that 87 per cent of our hypothermic elderly patients were found indoors is concerning,” author Dr Michelle Amanda-Rajah said in the study, published in the Internal Medicine Journal.
The risk of poor outcomes was heightened by social economic factors, with 59 per cent of elderly patients living alone or having few social supports and 71 per cent on a pension, the study found.
Public health campaigns in Australia have traditionally focused on the effects of extreme heat, but recent multi-country research would suggest that illness and mortality associated with hypothermia was “significant and under appreciated”.
More than 70 per cent of patients with hypothermia presented to hospital in the colder months, but 12 per cent were treated during summer.
Dr Amanda-Rajah questioned whether economic deprivation, being able to afford heating, behavioural factors such as wearing enough clothing and thermally inefficient housing were to blame.
“With rising energy costs a contentious issue in Australia, further population based studies are warranted,” she said.
The study of 217 patients from Alfred Health, which is made up of The Alfred, Sandringham and Caulfield hospitals, followed the winter of 2015, Victoria’s coldest in 26 years.