Stroke could be affecting Americans earlier in life than ever before, a new study suggests. “Stroke is no longer an affliction of old age,” says lead researcher Timothy J. Wolf, OTD an instructor of occupational therapy and neurology and investigator for the Cognitive Rehabilitation Research Group at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. “People in the working ages of life are having strokes with greater regularity than ever before.”
Reporting in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, the team also found that while more people under the age of 65 are suffering strokes, rehabilitation is often not offered to younger people with mild stroke.
Most of the strokes among those under 65 were mild. “These individuals typically do not have outward signs of impairment and therefore are discharged with little or no rehabilitation,” Wolf noted. “What we now know though, from following up with this group of people, is that they are having trouble reintegrating back into complex activities of everyday life such as employment,” he says.
On follow-up, 46 percent of those with a mild stroke say they were working slower, 42 percent say they were not able to do their job as well, 31 percent say they were not able to stay organized and 52 percent say they had problems concentrating.
“If you are young and have a mild stroke, chances are you will not receive rehabilitation services,” Wolf says. “That does not mean that you do not have any impairments. It means that we as a healthcare community are not doing a good enough job at detecting the more subtle deficits associated with mild stroke.”
The healthcare community needs to pay more attention to this trend in strokes, and begin to modify assessment and intervention strategies to meet the needs of younger, less neurologically impaired stroke patients, Wolf says.
“Right now, our services are heavily weighted toward assessment and intervention for motor impairments and preparing an individual with a stroke to return home,” he says. However, “the younger working age stroke survivor has needs that go way beyond self-care, and he or she needs to be able to return to work and community roles,” Wolf stated.
Richard Isaacson, MD an assistant professor of neurology and medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida says that while people may be having strokes younger, it is hard to know from this single study whether this is a trend throughout the United States.
Nevertheless, “this brings attention to the fact that stroke is not just a disease of old people, it’s a disease of people as we age,” Isaacson says.
He speculated that if a trend exists it could be due to risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. “People in their middle-age need to realize they need to control these risk factors,” Isaacson added.
And he agreed that doctors need to do more to help younger people with mild strokes re-enter their lives.
For more information on stroke, visit the U.S National Library of Medicine, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stroke.html