Additional risk factors for lethal hypothermia

Fiona Bright, John D. Gilbert, Calle Winskog, Roger W. Byard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

An 86-year-old woman was found dead lying on her back on the floor of an unkempt kitchen. She had last been seen four days before. Her dress was pulled up and she was not wearing underpants. The house was noted to be in “disarray” with papers covering most surfaces and the floor. Rubbish was piled up against one of the doors. At autopsy the major findings were of a fractured left neck of femur, fresh pressure areas over her right buttock, Wischnewski spots of the stomach and foci of pancreatic necrosis, in keeping with hypothermia. No significant underlying organic diseases were identified and there was no other evidence of trauma. Death was due to hypothermia complicating immobility from a fractured neck of femur. This case confirms the vulnerability of frail, elderly and socially-isolated individuals to death from hypothermia if a significant illness or injury occurs. Additional risk factors for hypothermia are also illustrated in this case that involve inadequate housing construction with absent insulation and window double glazing. The approach to hypothermic deaths should, therefore, include checking for these features as well as measuring room and environmental temperatures, evaluating the type and quality of heating and the nature of the floor and its coverings, Given the ageing population in many Western countries, increasing social isolation of the elderly, cost of fuel and electricity, and lack of energy efficient housing, this type of death may become an increasingly witnessed occurrence during the colder months of the year.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-597
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Forensic and Legal Medicine
Volume20
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Diogenes syndrome
  • Hypothermia
  • Winter
  • Death
  • Energy efficiency
  • Risk factor
  • Geriatric

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