Temperature Fluctuation Concerns

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston suggests that temperature swings may place elderly persons who have chronic conditions (for example, diabetes, heart failure and lung disease) at a higher risk for death during the summer months. Published recently in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that for every 1-degree Centigrade* increase in summer temperature variability, there was a corresponding increase of from 2.8 to 4 percent in the death rate of elderly people with chronic diseases.

In a news release about the study, Harvard researcher Antonella Zanobetti stated: "We found that, independent of heat waves, high day-to-day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy. This variability can be harmful for susceptible people."

The study’s lead author Joel Schwartz said in the news release: "People adapt to the usual temperature in their city. That is why we don’t expect higher mortality rates in Miami than in Minneapolis, despite the higher temperatures. But people do not adapt as well to increased fluctuations around the usual temperature. That finding, combined with the increasing age of the population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and possible increases in temperature fluctuations due to climate change, means that this public health problem is likely to grow in importance in the future."

Additional, more specific study findings included:

  • The risk of death for persons with diabetes rose 4 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with a previous heart attack rose 3.8 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with chronic lung disease rose 3.7 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with heart failure rose 2.8 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • Temperature-related mortality risk was 1 to 2 percent higher for persons living in poverty and for black persons.
  • Risk of death was greater for elderly persons living in hotter climes.

The researchers concluded that greater summer temperature variability in the U.S. alone could result in over 10,000 additional deaths per year. Areas that may be particularly affected include the mid-Atlantic states. Elsewhere in the world, areas that may be particularly affected include parts of France, Spain and Italy.

*approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit

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