In a University of Melbourne study, researchers analysed 25 years’ of death records, involving heart attacks, between Christmas and the first week of January in the southern hemisphere.
The results revealed a 4.2 per cent increase in heart-related deaths occurring out of hospital during the Christmas period in New Zealand. The average age of cardiac death was 76.2 years during the Christmas period compared with 77.1 years at other times of the year.
Josh Knight, lead author and researcher at University of Melbourne’s Centre for Health Policy, said by using data from a country where Christmas occurs in the height of summer, he was able to separate any “holiday effect” from the “winter effect”.
He said patients holding back on medical care during the festive season could be attributable for the spike.
“The Christmas holiday period is a common time for travel within New Zealand, with people frequently holidaying away from their main medical facilities,” he said.
“This could contribute to delays in both seeking treatment, due to a lack of familiarity with nearby medical facilities, and due to geographic isolation from appropriate medical care in emergency situations.”
Mr Knight said terminally ill patients’ will to live and hold off death for a day could also be a contributing factor.
“The ability of individuals to modify their date of death based on dates of significance has been both confirmed and refuted in other studies, however it remains a possible explanation for this holiday effect,”