Heat and hospital admission via the emergency department for people with intellectual disability, autism, and mental disorders in South Korea: a nationwide, time-stratified, case-crossover study



As summer temperatures rise in South Korea and around the world, a recent study published in April 2024 sheds light on a concerning public health issue. The research, titled “Heat and hospital admission via the emergency department for people with intellectual disability, autism, and mental disorders in South Korea: a nationwide, time-stratified, case-crossover study,” examines the link between extreme heat and hospital admissions through emergency departments (EDs) for specific vulnerable populations.


Why Focus on Intellectual Disability, Autism, and Mental Disorders?


People with intellectual disability (ID), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and mental health conditions may face unique challenges in regulating their body temperature and responding to extreme heat. This can put them at a greater risk of heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses.


The South Korean study aimed to investigate this concern on a national scale. Researchers analyzed data to assess correlations between scorching temperatures and ED admissions for individuals with ID, ASD, and mental disorders.


Key Findings of the Study


The research revealed several significant findings:

  • Increased Risk for People with ID: The study identified a statistically significant rise in ED admissions for people with ID during extremely hot days compared to days with moderate temperatures. This suggests that ID is a vulnerability factor when it comes to heatstroke and related health complications.
  • Heat and Autism Spectrum Disorder: While the link between heat and ED admissions for people with ASD wasn’t statistically significant, the study did find a trend towards increased admissions during heat waves. More research might be needed to solidify this connection.
  • Mental Disorders and Heat Sensitivity: The study also found that individuals with mental health conditions experienced a heightened risk of ED visits due to extreme heat. This finding emphasizes the need for additional precautions for this population during hot weather.


Beyond Vulnerability: Additional Risk Factors


The research delved deeper than simply establishing a connection between heat and ED admissions for vulnerable groups. It also explored factors that might elevate vulnerability to heatstroke and related complications. These included:

  • Gender: The study found that females were more likely to experience heat-related ED admissions compared to males. The reasons behind this gender disparity are not fully understood and require further investigation.
  • Residence: People residing in rural areas exhibited a higher risk of ED visits during heat waves, compared to those in urban areas. Potential reasons for this difference could be limited access to air conditioning in rural settings or variations in social support networks.
  • Socioeconomic Status: Individuals with lower income were found to be more susceptible to heat-related health problems. This could be due to limited access to air conditioning or proper hydration resources in low-income housing.


Preventive Measures for a Safe Summer


By recognizing the at-risk populations and implementing preventative measures, we can ensure a safer and healthier summer for everyone. Here are some crucial takeaways for staying safe during extreme heat:

  • Hydration is Key: Ensure adequate fluid intake throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Water is the best choice, but electrolyte-rich beverages can also be helpful.
  • Seek Air Conditioning: Spend time in air-conditioned spaces, public libraries, or malls if possible, especially during peak heat hours.
  • Clothing Choices Matter: Opt for loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing made from breathable fabrics like cotton.
  • Limit Strenuous Activity: Avoid exercising or engaging in strenuous outdoor activities during the hottest parts of the day.
  • Monitor Vulnerable Individuals: Regularly check on those who may be more susceptible to heatstroke, such as children, elderly adults, and people with disabilities. This may involve reminding them to drink fluids, helping them stay cool, and avoiding exertion during peak heat hours.


Public awareness campaigns are crucial, particularly during heat waves. By educating the public about the dangers of extreme heat and the specific needs of vulnerable populations, we can help to prevent heat-related illnesses and ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for all.



Is there anything I can do to help someone with intellectual disability stay safe during a heat wave?


Absolutely! People with ID may not always recognize the signs of heatstroke or be able to communicate their discomfort effectively. Here are some tips:

  • Monitor Fluid Intake: Encourage regular sips of water or cooling drinks throughout the day, even if they don’t say they’re thirsty.
  • Cool Clothing and Environment: Dress them in loose-fitting, breathable clothing and keep them in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible during very hot weather.
  • Plan Activities: Schedule outings for cooler parts of the day and avoid strenuous activities during peak heat hours.
  • Communicate with Caregivers: If someone with ID receives professional care, communicate these heat safety tips to their caregivers to ensure consistent implementation.


What are some signs of heatstroke that I should watch out for?


Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect someone is experiencing heatstroke, call emergency services immediately. Here are some warning signs:

  • Extremely high body temperature (often above 104°F)
  • Confusion, disorientation, or slurred speech
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Seizures

What are some of the challenges faced by people with autism spectrum disorder when it comes to coping with heat?

People with ASD may experience sensory overload in hot weather, making it difficult to tolerate increased temperatures. Additionally, some individuals with ASD may struggle with communication or have difficulty expressing their discomfort with heat, making them more susceptible to heatstroke.


How can caregivers ensure that people with mental health conditions stay hydrated during heat waves?

For some individuals with mental health conditions, staying hydrated can be a challenge. Caregivers can implement strategies such as offering visually appealing drinks, using fun cups or straws, or setting reminders for hydration breaks.




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