New statistics indicating that younger dementia sufferers are at greatest risk of dying during winter break new ground in the battle to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland, a University of Ulster academic has claimed.
Professor Christine Liddell from the School of Psychology said recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that for people over 75 years of age who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, 40% more people die in winter than at other times of the year.
But for people under 75 years old and suffering from these conditions, the figure rises to 56%.
Professor Liddell said: “The reason for more deaths among younger people could be because younger patients are less likely to be living with a full package of care and support around them - although no-one can be sure at this stage.
“What is certain is that we need to step up and respond to these new findings. More vigilance and support is needed for people with mental health difficulties during cold winter months.
“This is especially so for two groups of people who are likely to be most at risk - younger people recently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and people who live alone.”
The new figures, which are based on three years of data from England and Wales, have been published on the Office for National Statistics website.
Professor Liddell, who has researched extensively the impact of fuel poverty in Northern Ireland, added: “We have known for a long time that people with a history of respiratory illness were more likely to die in winter.
“In fact there are 60% more deaths from respiratory causes in winter than at other times of year. For cardiovascular disease too, the winter risk is higher, with 20% more people dying of cardiovascular causes in winter.
“But these latest results indicate that, for people who are living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, they have an even bigger risk of dying in winter than do people with heart disease or stroke.
“Mental health conditions such as dementia are seldom the immediate cause of death. However, people experiencing mental health difficulties of this kind are at risk of becoming forgetful and confused. This may mean that they do not dress warmly enough on cold days, or that they forget to put heating on.
“If they are also neglecting to eat a square meal every day, and perhaps did not have a flu jab, they could be more likely to become ill with a range of other problems. This makes dementia and Alzheimer’s significant contributory factors to excess winter deaths.”
The new statistics can be viewed at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health2/excess-winter-mortality-in-england-and-wales/2011-12--provisional--and-2010-11--final-/ewm-bulletin.html