Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine

Volume 10 Number 2, April 2003

Hunger and poverty among elderly patients attending an emergency department

KY Tham, SL Poon, SY Thong

Background: Singapore is an affluent small nation-state with a high per capita gross domestic product. Objective: To determine the prevalence of hunger and poverty among elderly patients attending an emergency department (ED). Methods: All patients aged 65 years and above who sought treatment at the ED of an urban acute care hospital over one week between 0900 and 1700 hours were surveyed. Two trained interviewers administered a face-to-face close-ended questionnaire. Data collected were demographics, health status and surrogate indicators of poverty and hunger. Results: Of the 210 non-critically ill patients approached, data was available for 194 (92.4%), of which 51% were men. The mean age was 76.7 (SD 7.4) years. Majority of the patients were well taken care of but a minority were not coping: 0.5% was homeless, 3.1% had skipped medical appointments in the last year due to lack of money, 1% did not have enough to eat and were not receiving any food aid and 1.5% borrowed money to buy food in the previous six months. Despite their advanced age, there were 12 (6.2%) who were sole breadwinners for their families. Twenty-one patients (10.8%) were already on welfare assistance and 5.7% received food aid to supplement their basic food needs. Conclusion: Though the numbers were not alarming, it was worrying that some elderly patients were going hungry or skipping medical appointments due to lack of money or still had family dependent on their income. The ED can help by actively identifying these at-risk elderly and referring them for welfare assistance. (Hong Kong j.emerg.med. 2003;10:97-103)

Keywords : Elderly, emergency department, hunger, poverty

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