Hospitals face busy period with elderly hit hard by cold, dry spells

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2009, 12:00am

Cold, dry days are particularly bad for the elderly, a study has found.

Researchers found that when humidity fell below 70 per cent and the temperature was 12 degrees Celsius or lower, the number of elderly requiring hospital treatment rose by 46 per cent.

The study, by the Observatory and the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association, looked at the relationship between the number of elderly people activating their personal emergency link (PE-Link) alarm who later required hospital admission.

The PE-Link data was recorded between 2004 and last year, during which the service had an average 50,000 subscribers.

The average number of users requiring hospital admission per day was about 70, but the figure was higher on cold days than on hot days.

The researchers also looked at the correlation between temperature and humidity and hospital admission. They found that when the daily minimum temperature fell below 22 degrees, the number of admissions increased.

At 12 degrees or below, the number of admissions was 10 per cent higher than average.

Hospital admissions also increased when the daily maximum temperature rose above 30 degrees. At 34 degrees or above, the number of admissions was 7 per cent higher than average.

There were 59 cold and dry days - the worst in terms of health for the elderly - from 2004 to last year. Humidity tends to fluctuate less in summer than in winter, said Mok Hing-yim, a senior scientific officer at the Observatory.

Researchers also noticed that the number of hospital admissions did not go up on the first day of rapid weather change.

It peaked on the second day instead, which they believed was because the elderly were slow to adapt to sudden changes in weather.

People with respiratory problems such as asthma and those with high blood pressure were particularly prone to changes in humidity.

Association executive director Ma Kam-wah said the findings were important, as the organisation could provide the elderly, who were not always up to date with news, with an early warning on weather changes.

'During a hot or cold spell, most of the elderly don't have enough preparation,' said Ma, adding that co-operation with the Observatory had helped the association be better prepared to attend to the needs of the elderly.

For example, with warnings of a cold spell approaching, 1,000 volunteers have been put on standby to provide warm clothes or blankets to senior citizens in need.

Over the past five years, the association has made 25 to 30 calls annually to subscribers through its 'caring message service'.

Messages are delivered through an interactive voice response system.

The aim is to make the elderly aware of issues such as health, safety and security and to help them keep in touch with the community. There are now almost 70,000 subscribers, up from 30,000 in 2004.