Deadly consequences of pensioners’ eat or heat choice

Study delivers devastating finding on why 23 older Australians died.

freezing

The heat or eat conundrum facing many older Australians living in cooler regions and struggling to make ends meet is being answered in devastating fashion.

A study has found that pensioners are being treated for hypothermia in alarming numbers – with the cost of heating and thermally inefficient housing to blame.

The study – released as the temperatures plummet in many states – found that 87 per cent of hypothermic elderly hospital emergency patients had been indoors, but had been too concerned about the cost of heating to warm their living space. Twenty-three of those people died.

The finding was contained in a study of 217 hypothermic emergency presentations to Alfred Health between 7 July 2009 and 1 September 2016 – a period that included a record-breaking cold winter in 2015.

Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low temperature. Normal body temperature is around 37°C; hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 35°C.

The condition is particularly dangerous for older people because their body’s response to cold can be compromised by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, some medicines including over-the-counter cold remedies, and ageing itself. As a result, hypothermia can develop in older adults after even relatively mild exposure to cold conditions.

The study found that more than half (59 per cent) of the patients who presented to The Alfred, Sandringham and Caulfield hospitals with hypothermia lived alone and had few social supports. Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) were on a pension.

“The finding that 87 per cent of our hypothermic elderly patients were found indoors is concerning,” said author Dr Michelle Amanda-Rajah in the study, which was published in the Internal Medicine Journal.

Dr Amanda-Rajah questioned whether economic deprivation, such as being able to afford heating, or behavioural factors, such as wearing enough clothing or even thermally inefficient housing, was to blame.

“With rising energy costs a contentious issue in Australia, further population-based studies are warranted,” she said.

Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos also said the findings were concerning.

“It’s very concerning that there are some members of our community who are obviously anxious about turning on their heating,” she said. “Our government is certainly conscious of the pressures around energy costs.”

Public health campaigns in Australia have traditionally focused on the effects of extreme heat, but recent multi-country research suggests illness and mortality associated with hypothermia was “significant and underappreciated”, the study concluded.

Thermally inefficient housing, the cost of heating and wearing insufficient clothing were blamed for the number of pensioners presenting to emergency departments in Victoria.

The Australian Council of Social Service said in its 2018 Poverty in Australia report that just over three million people (13.2 per cent) of Australians were living below the poverty line – “$433 a week for a single adult living alone or $909 a week for a couple with two children”.

The Age Pension, with supplements, is $463 a week for a single and $698 a week for a couple.

YourLifeChoices’ 2019 Insights Survey, answered by 7709 respondents, asked if the Government doing enough to support retirees? Almost 73 per cent said no while another 19 per cent were unsure. Asked if the Age Pension was enough to live on, 80 per cent said no.  

Are you concerned about your heating bills this winter? Do you try to rug up rather than turn on the heating?

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    COMMENTS

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    Paddington
    19th Jun 2019
    10:25am
    We have to be very careful about the heating for sure. It has to be a day with no sun and very low temperatures. First of all, we rug up and then try to do without any heating.
    It is not an automatic turning on of the gas central heating. We tried using a small heater but it was exorbitantly expensive so got rid of it. We live in Victoria where it is cold.
    So, yes heating is a luxury for a lot of people.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    12:31pm
    Paddington, I agree heating has become a luxury, so has cooling, laundry, bathing, cooking, lighting and watering the garden.

    All our utility expenses are run by privatised companies with middle agents.

    Our previous Governments lied to us and told us privatisation would be cheaper despite corporations always requiring higher profit margins. These foreign-owned companies make huge profits which do not stay in Australia unlike when they were Government run.

    It tells you a lot about our Government when they are aware of this and allows deregulation of these companies too.

    Australians have been complaining for years and politicians admit privatisation has failed yet nothing is being done about it not even reregulationg them.
    Paddington
    19th Jun 2019
    5:40pm
    Don’t start me on the water bill. Too expensive to even have a daily shower now!
    Such a rip off! We wash clothes sparingly as well.
    Everything has to be treated as though it is a luxury, jackie!
    Anonymous
    20th Jun 2019
    2:57pm
    wait until we only rely on "renewables" for our power
    Paddington
    22nd Jun 2019
    6:01pm
    Ardnaher, well with people like you we are not rushing into that but rather rushing into building lots more coal mines and power stations.
    Listen to the scientists not the politicians who only have views like yours and opinions.
    Anonymous
    23rd Jun 2019
    8:09am
    really,is that so Paddington. So all scientists are on the same page are they..no they are not! Personally I can afford to pay for heating/cooling but i worry for those on here who have stated they cannot afford it. how on earth are they going to get along when the costs keep going up and we have unreliable power. we need to look at a mix of nuclear power/gas/hyrdro electric and yes clean coal... and realise that relying totally on renewables is not going to give us what we all need, reliable and affordable power.
    sunnyOz
    19th Jun 2019
    10:31am
    How many other senior suicides are a direct affect of their living circumstances?
    I personally know of a guy aged 68 who took his own life because. He had been divorced in his 30's, had worked as a tradesperson, company went bust. Then in mid 50's, had an accident, insurance inadequate to cover him. Couch crashed on numerous friends floors. He was unable to drive, cost of medication high. Then son who owned a small run down house converted a garage for him to live in - did so for 8 years. But then son decided to sell and move interstate as he was getting married. Took his own life.
    Son read out letter at dad's funeral that dad had left - warning his friends to not end up existing instead of living like he was forced to do. He talked about the cost of trying to survive on Newstart before he went on the Aged Pension - how that was one of the main reasons he spiraled downwards. Talked about the humiliation of trying to pay heating and cooling costs for his small room. He saw no future, and saw no purpose in just existing to wait around to die.
    In my group of friends and acquaintances, this is the 3rd person I know who has taken their life. So I find the above figures highly under stated.
    Paddington
    19th Jun 2019
    10:38am
    Oh that is so sad, SunnyOz!
    Newstart needs to be increased.
    We are doing a really bad job of looking after each other.
    TREBOR
    19th Jun 2019
    10:47am
    Clearly retirees need a voice and to get together. Trouble is we are all independent minded and , as you pointed out, don't, in many cases, like to hold out hands or ask for help.

    It's an old human nature thing, about keeping up with the pack... if you cannot, you are abandoned in the snow, but it goes further than that - personal pride will keep a pack member going until death.

    Tragic, but true.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    11:41am
    sunnyOz, I am sorry to hear about your friend's tragic life. Australian life was very cruel to your friend and still is for the rest of our financially disadvantaged Australians.

    Unfortunately, our Government will never increase Newstart because it does not care about poverty.

    The majority of politicians are very well off, have permanent, well-paid jobs, don't have any work-related pressure to deliver, have many holidays with travel perks, don't work weekends, are unaccountable for errors, crimes they commit, are rewarded a huge pension and perks that are not mean tested.

    Their welfare bill is a bigger burden on taxpayers than Newstart. NZs PM Jacinta knocked back her pay increase but none of our politicians did. The same day Australians had their penalty rates cut ScoMo gave himself an $11,000 pay rise. He has the gall to preach his Christian values.
    Farside
    19th Jun 2019
    5:47pm
    Your friend would not be alone in seeing the futility of just existing to wait around to die. I have little doubt there are many others who likewise see little to live for and would also seek the exit door given the chance. Such thoughts are reinforced by the humiliation and loss of dignity that so often accompanies poverty.

    There is no compelling reason for the government to act on Newstart. It is simply not a top three issue for the electorate, even the pensioners think they are more deserving than the unemployed. Newstart has been a joke for years yet there are many who want to see eligibility made more difficult, the amount further reduced or cut-off entirely after a token period. Says a lot for our citizens.
    mogo51
    19th Jun 2019
    11:11am
    These are disgusting statistics and the Govt should be brought to account for its failure to adequately help such people.
    Call me a racist whatever you like, but Austealia should be for Australians first. Proper housing, heating, sustenance and pension. Not throwing money at illegals, who should not be here in the first place and indigenous people who refuse to work and become part of the community, after more than 200 years. When is it enough?
    Tood
    19th Jun 2019
    11:47am
    Well said mogo, the illegals seem to be getting everything and many remain on welfare for years and 33 billion thrown at the indigenous every year and nothing to show for it.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    12:11pm
    mogo51, we need a Federal ICAC into who is siphoning all the money that's going toward detention centres. The entire system is shrouded in too much secrecy and smells of corruption.

    The majority of indigenous Australians do work. There are more nonindigenous Australians on Newstart that indigenous Australians. The only true Australians are those that are indigenous their ancestors arrived peacefully over 50,000 years ago. They had a pristine, free land and content society. Something that no longer exists.

    You need to worry about our overstayers that are arriving here daily by plane than boat people. Yes you are a racist.
    Rod63
    19th Jun 2019
    2:39pm
    I'd love to know whom you mean by illegals? Visa overstayers, I assume. Most of those aren't getting money thrown at them.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    7:42pm
    Rod63, they would be getting their money with illegal means. We have enough criminals here and don’t need more.
    Paddington
    19th Jun 2019
    11:48pm
    Oh dear, so sad to see the racist, prejudiced comments. Some very nasty comments which is disappointing to read on here. Some wonderful Aborigines just like everyone else.
    The term illegals sounds Trump like and we never want to be like him. Sounds like all kinds of people lumped into that term. The boat ones are so desperate.
    Why on earth would you envy these unfortunate people?
    The people on Manus and Nauru are not to be envied.
    Yes, jackie, stinks the whole Manus/Nauru thing!
    Anonymous
    20th Jun 2019
    3:00pm
    well thank the courts for now allowing the flood gates to open ..letting all those who are sooooooooo ill on Manus and Naru to come here for medical reasons....the dont go back either as the do gooder lawyers get involved and game over. what message does that send to the people smugglers...get on a boat get taken to Manus and Nauru, get ill and you will be medically evacuated and your ticker to paradise (Australia) is guaranteed...and Labor are not interested in changing any of this as of today
    Anonymous
    20th Jun 2019
    3:05pm
    Jackie. "the majority of indigenous Australians do work" ..that is not correct.

    "The proportion of people aged 15 and over whose main source of income was a
    government pension or allowance increased with remoteness for Indigenous people but
    showed little variation for non-Indigenous people (Figure 7.5.1).

    • A higher proportion of Indigenous people aged 15 and over received a government pension
    or allowance as their main source of income (52%) compared with non-Indigenous people
    aged 15 and over (25%). This was the case across all age groups (Figure 7.5.2).
    Note: The 2014 GSS did not collect data for Very remote areas."

    these are 2017 figures from government.
    FrankC
    20th Jun 2019
    5:09pm
    One big thing you failed to mention Mogo, is the billions thrown overseas to countries that are nowhere near us, not only the Asian countries nearly all of them ( too much $$) but also places like South Africa, and I think Turkey. I saw the list when Julia was in power ( !) and the figures were staggering. I remember Indonesia was getting then $8 billio, and she said it will go, up next year, -----WHY. If 75% of these donations were used here to help Australians, what a difference it would make. I wonder how much the unions would get out of it !!!!!!!
    mogo51
    19th Jun 2019
    11:13am
    A sad scenario, when wilk those jerks in Canberra join the human race?
    mogo51
    19th Jun 2019
    11:14am
    A sad scenario, when wilk those jerks in Canberra join the human race?

    19th Jun 2019
    11:15am
    This article is too general as it doesn't give any numbers involved in a choice of whether to eat or heat. Are those involved wholly dependent on a government? Are they renters or homeowners? I would prefer more detail.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    11:47am
    Old Man, when a person has to starve to keep some insatiable corporate machine richer says enough.

    Governments should stop shirking their duties onto privatisation and selling off the peoples' assets.

    We no longer have governments they are puppets.
    patti
    19th Jun 2019
    11:27am
    I cannot bear to be cold, but i have found a heater which heats me beautifully with just one bar. I tried the air conditioner, but I don't like the feel of it and it doesn't seem to give me the warmth that the radiant heat does. And yet I've been told a/c is cheaper. I used the bar heater last year and was pleasantly surprised at the bill - not too bad. But your can't beat wrapping up in a blanket either.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    11:52am
    patti, I wear my coat indoors when it's too chilly and put the heater on in the evenings. I feel sorry for our frail and immobile elderly Australians that must feel the cold all day and night. They would need heating day and night but have to go without because it is too expensive.
    Anonymous
    22nd Jun 2019
    10:26am
    close off all rooms and if you have any of those snake things that go under doors use them to keep the warmth in the room/s.
    KB
    19th Jun 2019
    11:32am
    The issue of heating and cooling has been an issue now for a very long time for older people. Extremely sad that people die an early death due to financial circumstances. So sad about your friend Sunny Oz. The government must address the issue electricity and increase pensions. do people can exist. As for me I put the air conditioner on early when it is cold shut the doors and switch off when heated enough. Very cold here in South Australia for the next couple of days so must use.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    12:37pm
    KB, corporate machines only care about profits not lives. That's what the country is run by.

    Don't be fooled we are Governed by people. If we were this would not be happening.
    KB
    19th Jun 2019
    11:32am
    The issue of heating and cooling has been an issue now for a very long time for older people. Extremely sad that people die an early death due to financial circumstances. So sad about your friend Sunny Oz. The government must address the issue electricity and increase pensions. do people can exist. As for me I put the air conditioner on early when it is cold shut the doors and switch off when heated enough. Very cold here in South Australia for the next couple of days so must use.
    Oldchick
    19th Jun 2019
    12:03pm
    I live alone and on DSP. I am super careful about my heating costs. Rarely would I ever put my a/c on before about 6pm and never in the morning, despite the fact it was down to -1.1 here this morning. I’m always super conscious of the heating cost when I have visitors stay over and I put it on for their benefit, or they put it on in their room and leave it going for hours. Rug up first every time.
    Heskwith
    19th Jun 2019
    12:35pm
    Hello; inefficient clothing, not just insufficient, should be added as a cause of hypothermia. It is understood that houses can be efficiently insulated, (most are not in Australia) but so can people. Very old folks often just don't know about high loft garments or bedding; they still add thin jumpers and heavy blankets which do not warm us enough. Nobody near an op shop should be without these items, and the recycling of duvets etc should be with care, permitted. Publicity for this principle, a needed use of Media.
    london
    19th Jun 2019
    12:44pm
    when is the government grant 50% off gas power and the rest to pensioners
    who in government or opposition listens to pensioners
    KSS
    19th Jun 2019
    1:06pm
    Its time to look at the science and put nuclear energy on the agenda. Australi's ridiculous position in refusing to consider this clean and cheap energy source is about 50 years out of date.
    TREBOR
    19th Jun 2019
    1:12pm
    Not such a far-fetched possibility, KSS - I'm not 100% opposed to nuclear....
    saintagnes
    19th Jun 2019
    2:53pm
    Australia is way behind the times. Nuclear is clean and cheap.
    Polly Esther
    19th Jun 2019
    2:54pm
    thank goodness for that TREBOR so there is a chance we may go nuclear after all :-))
    Farside
    19th Jun 2019
    5:59pm
    the ship sailed long ago on nuclear energy as we currently know it. Nuclear is not cheap despite claims to the contrary and there is little investment appetite for it.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    8:01pm
    KSS, that’s what the Japanese thought and look where it got them.
    Anonymous
    22nd Jun 2019
    10:29am
    those who oppose nuclear need to do a bit more research..it is cheap and it is safer than previously and if it is so bad how come there are more and more being built overseas.

    people need to read this to find out the facts.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx
    Anonymous
    22nd Jun 2019
    10:31am
    "Thirteen countries in 2017 produced at least one-quarter of their electricity from nuclear. France gets around three-quarters of its electricity from nuclear energy; Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine get more than half from nuclear, whilst Belgium, Sweden, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Finland and Czech Republic get one-third or more. South Korea normally gets more than 30% of its electricity from nuclear, while in the USA, UK, Spain, Romania and Russia about one-fifth of electricity is from nuclear. Japan is used to relying on nuclear power for more than one-quarter of its electricity and is expected to return to somewhere near that level."
    Farside
    22nd Jun 2019
    4:41pm
    are there more and more reactors being built overseas Ardnaher? It is not a matter of being pro or anti nuclear, simply the boat has sailed for the time being. There are about 50 reactors under construction, the last of these not scheduled to become operational before 2025. China, responsible for about a fifth of the reactors under construction, has not broken ground on a new reactor since 2016. Given the 7-10 year construction time and $20+ billion investment required to build a reactor do you really see more investment going to this energy source? Investors have already walked away from two major projects in the UK despite having sunk more than £2 billion into them. My guess is these won't be the last.

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612564/chinas-losing-its-taste-for-nuclear-power-thats-bad-news/
    robmur
    19th Jun 2019
    1:54pm
    What an indictment on those who are responsible for governing this country and looking after the welfare of its citizens, particularly the elderly. Twenty three elderly Australians dying as a result of not being able to heat their home. Whoopee, today my wife and I received our generous energy entitlement of $125 promised prior to the federal election. Yes, nice to receive, but if one is really struggling on an aged pension, then this "generous" amount may help out to the end of this month, given the cold spell we are experiencing now in Victoria, Any government with an ounce of concern would be increasing the aged pension immediately by $50 per week for singles and $80 per week for a couple, minimum with a view to examining the financial plight of many of our elderly citizens before the end of 2019. It is too easy to forget the elderly, particularly those that are trying to survive on the aged pension as it stands today.
    Farside
    19th Jun 2019
    6:06pm
    Responsibility for the welfare of citizens, particularly the elderly, begins at the community level. Governments will only act when there is impetus from the community for them to do more.
    robmur
    19th Jun 2019
    1:54pm
    What an indictment on those who are responsible for governing this country and looking after the welfare of its citizens, particularly the elderly. Twenty three elderly Australians dying as a result of not being able to heat their home. Whoopee, today my wife and I received our generous energy entitlement of $125 promised prior to the federal election. Yes, nice to receive, but if one is really struggling on an aged pension, then this "generous" amount may help out to the end of this month, given the cold spell we are experiencing now in Victoria, Any government with an ounce of concern would be increasing the aged pension immediately by $50 per week for singles and $80 per week for a couple, minimum with a view to examining the financial plight of many of our elderly citizens before the end of 2019. It is too easy to forget the elderly, particularly those that are trying to survive on the aged pension as it stands today.
    ozirules
    19th Jun 2019
    2:39pm
    essential services like power should never have been privatised. No wonder it is expensive when we have so many fingers in the pot making profits. I pay my power bill to a company that does nothing but send me an invoice. They dont generate power or provide the infrastructure just a billing service. They dont even have to read the meter now with smart meters being foisted upon us. If those profits which now go overseas were back in the government purse we wouldnt have such a budget deficit.
    neil
    19th Jun 2019
    3:15pm
    150,000 homeless people.
    food banks having to feed us.
    Political parties not listening to anybody but themselves.
    Not in some despotic third world country but here. Australia.
    Neil.
    Farside
    19th Jun 2019
    6:08pm
    The political parties are listening, just not to the food banks and 150,000 homeless people.
    neil
    19th Jun 2019
    3:15pm
    150,000 homeless people.
    food banks having to feed us.
    Political parties not listening to anybody but themselves.
    Not in some despotic third world country but here. Australia.
    Neil.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    8:18pm
    Neil, no Australian should be homeless in a country that pays welfare to owners of several properties.
    Anonymous
    22nd Jun 2019
    10:37am
    ....and we need to kick those people out of housing commisison homes/flats whose circumstances have changed and they could afford to be paying private rentals. i well remember some rich guy who drives a BMW or some such car who has been living for many many years in a housing commission flat in Sydney...this was exposed on one of those tv programs but nothing was done about it to my knowledge.
    shirboy
    19th Jun 2019
    4:16pm
    I consider myself lucky to be living here on the Central Coast area as the weather is always moderate. Had some friends come to live here from Victoria & they said how happy that they had made the move to our Paradise. I sometimes heat up an area of a night for a short time.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    8:27pm
    shirboy, I don’t like high humidity and suffer more in the heat.
    Anonymous
    21st Jun 2019
    8:06am
    i am thankful we downsized from a very large four bedroom home to one that is 120sq ft. We have a reverse aircon and we put it on when the temp inside gets to around 15/16. Only takes about 10 mins to get up to about 23 as we are able to close off all the bedrooms, laundry and only have the kitchen,lounge,dining area to heat up. Our monthly bill is never over 50 dollars in winter and we pay no service charge which is a big help.
    Farside
    21st Jun 2019
    11:53am
    well done Ardnaher, a couple of adults living in a space equivalent to one average size bedroom (10' x 12') is quite remarkable but obviously not for everyone.
    Anonymous
    22nd Jun 2019
    10:41am
    thank you Farside for pointing out my "error" 120m2...i am sure others realised it as well

    19th Jun 2019
    5:49pm
    Life - or should I say death - under a verminous LNP government.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    8:25pm
    Knows-a-lot Labor is just as bad. They are all tied to the same brush. All Governments that serve corporations and the elites don’t serve the people.
    Karl Marx
    19th Jun 2019
    7:06pm
    This is within the power of the government & I'm not talking about the LNP as they only have numbers but everyone that is elected has the power to do something about this. How many Australians have been killed because of a terrorist act on Australian soil in the last 10 years, far far less than pensioners have died in one year from the above study. Enough said.
    jackie
    19th Jun 2019
    8:21pm
    SFR, euthanasia for the dying will become a reality for the suffering poor soon.
    Karl Marx
    19th Jun 2019
    8:33pm
    Jackie, I'm surprised the government haven't legislated it sooner, would save them millions in the short term & billions in the long term.
    Most likely on the agenda of ALL parties just not ready to make it public yet.
    soylent green always comes to mind
    Anonymous
    20th Jun 2019
    3:06pm
    ...dont worry "renewables" will fix the problem...!!!!!!!
    Charlie
    19th Jun 2019
    10:29pm
    Thermally efficient housing could have been built in the tropical north years ago, but instead there was little boxes built with a shallow roof and no insulation. An air conditioner was thought to be the cheap solution and a tree was grown beside the house for shade.

    Air conditioning turned out to be the expensive solution with rising energy costs. Also air conditioning without insulation cools unevenly, with residents feeling hot from ceiling radiation in spite of cooler air.

    In the case of age pensioners, sometimes the air conditioner is inadequate for the size of the rented dwelling but unaffordable anyway. The elderly did once live in these areas without air conditioning, but they lived at the beach or in old design houses with high ceilings and high roofs that offset ceiling radiation. The traditional house was elevated to catch breezes and reduce the effects of flooding. It had open verandahs nearly all around