Why do so many people die over the Holidays?

Why do so many people die over the Holidays?With the spate of famous deaths over the last few days, my Facebook feed looks like an obituary page from a newspaper in a retiree town.  Why do so many people die over the Holidays?  In the last few days we’ve lost:

  • **Carrie Fisher (known most for Princess Leia),
  • **Debbie Reynolds (her mother and a great actress),
  • **George S. Irving (known as the Heat Miser!)
  • **Robert Leo Hulseman (creator of the red Solo cup)
  • **Dr. Donald “D.A.” Henderson (eradicated smallpox)
  • **Dr. Vera Rubin (astronomer who discovered dark matter)

and I’m sure I’m missing some….

In fact, the three deadliest days are Christmas day, the day after Christmas, and New Years day.  That is for all natural causes of death as well as the five most common disease causes of death (circulatory, respiratory, metabolic/endocrine/nutritional, digestive, and yes, cancer.)

I asked myself why do so many people die over the Holidays?  I’ve given talks about dealing with and surviving the Holidays.  I’ve read the theories about health and deaths after New Years.  I went digging into research.  I thought I knew why so many people die over the Holidays, but research has overturned my ideas.

Here are a few assumptions people make and what research says.

  1. People die because of the cold.  Well, it is true that more people die in winter months than during the rest of the year, but the numbers are still statistically higher for the days around the Holidays than the other cold days of winter.  Additionally, in one study colder more northern states in the US actually had slightly lower death rates.
  2. People die due to Holiday stress.  I always thought this was a big culprit; which is why I write about and talk about how to cope with the Holidays.  Turns out the stress isn’t it (or not it alone.)  When research studied those who don’t have the stress (Alzheimers patients), their death rates still spiked at the Holidays. 
  3. Maybe it is overindulging in food and drink?  Nope, again.  Those who were in controlled environments (e.g. inpatient) still had higher death rates at the Holidays.
  4. Could it be suicide?  Well, actually, December has the lowest rate of suicide for all months.  Suicide rates are actually highest during the Fall and Spring.

So, why do so many people die over the Holidays?  Well, one researcher suggests it’s about self care.  During the Holidays people are so busy and focused on the festive events they may not take good care of themselves.  They ignore a pain or a problem and wait to get it looked at until after the Holiday.  Many times that is too late.

Another researcher suggested more people may die over the holidays due to medical center staffing.  Many of the senior members of holiday emergency rooms or medical centers are on vacation for the Holidays, because they are senior.  This is not to say the staff that is on doesn’t do the best they can or a good job, but experience can make the difference in a difficult case that comes into the ER.

What does this mean for you and for your partner?  It means you need to help each other make sure that over the Holidays you have great self care.  Don’t ignore potential problems nor let your partner do so.  Make sure you have a good medical checkup at the beginning of the season and you monitor yourself and each other.  Get good sleep, be reasonable in your eating/drinking (so you don’t worsen any conditions), and find time to de-stress (mostly so you can enjoy the season more!)

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