Category: Clinical Sciences/Health Conditions
Objectives: Climate change is known to affect the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Persons with disabilities and, in particular, individuals with a spinal cord injury (SCI) are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events due to impairment of temperature regulation, mobility, personal care, and everyday functioning. Yet the effects of climate change and extreme weather events on persons with disabilities have received little attention to date. We sought to determine the experiences and educational needs of rehabilitation professionals regarding these topics in a global survey.
Design: International, cross-sectional survey.
Results: Respondents included 125 rehabilitation professionals working in SCI. Fifty percent were from Europe, 19% from North America, 19% from Asia, 7% from Oceania, and 6% from Africa and South America. Most (74%) were physicians, while 12% were physical therapists.
Of respondents, 58% acknowledged local climate had changed, 22% reported it had not, and 18% were unsure. Of those reporting a changing local climate, 70% noted an impact on patient's health. Temperature, dehydration, fatigue, respiratory problems, mood changes, and accessibility were the greatest concerns. Provider-reported preparedness to address climate change and weather disasters for patient's had a median score of 4 on a 0-10 scale (SD 2.1) whereas provider-reported patient preparedness had a median score of 3.45 (SD 2.26).
Only 25% of respondents acknowledged providing education to their patients with SCI about disaster preparedness; however, 85% expressed interest in further information about extreme weather and climate concerns for people with SCI.
Conclusions: Many rehabilitation professionals working in SCI acknowledge issues about extreme weather and climate change but are inadequately prepared to address these issues. Further education and resources must be made available for health care professionals. Moreover, climate change is an ongoing, increasing problem without borders. Therefore, resources must be developed in multiple languages and future research needs must be anticipated.
Marcalee Alexander– CEO, Telerehabilitation International
Jagger Alexander– Student, Vanderbilt University
Mohit Arora– Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Sydney
Chloe Slocum– Director of Health Policy and Attending Physician, Harvard University/Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
James Middleton– Professor, John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Centre, The University of Sydney