In New York, Fewer Heat Deaths Among Those Who Live Alone

The Grand Street Settlement building, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, is a gathering place for elderly who live alone in the neighborhood.

In the past, public health researchers have painted a bleak picture of heat-related deaths: an elderly person, living alone in a room with no air conditioning, grows warmer and warmer, then turns dizzy and disoriented, and there is no one around to help.

But a new study, published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found no statistically significant correlation between living alone and dying from heat stroke. Researchers at the city health department looked at the 41 people who died from heat stroke between 2008 and 2011, and determined just 18 percent of the city's heat stroke victims lived alone, while 82 percent lived with someone else.

"Because many people live in densely developed neighborhoods and large multi-family buildings, it may be easier to live alone and still be socially engaged," said Assistant Health Commissioner Tom Matte, a co-author of the report.

But the city's definition of heat-related deaths counts only heat stroke victims and excludes cases when high temperatures contribute to a heart attack or other illnesses. Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University who studied the 1995 Chicago heat wave, said in an email, "For me it's just a symptom of the weird counting we use here."