More and more Americans suffer from stroke earlier in life than ever before, indicating that stroke is no longer an affliction of old age, a new study shows.
While more people under the age of 65 are suffering strokes, rehabilitation is often not offered to younger people with mild stroke, according to the study appearing in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
"Stroke is no longer an affliction of old age," said lead researcher Timothy J. Wolf, an instructor of occupational therapy and neurology and investigator for the Cognitive Rehabilitation Research Group at Washington University School of Medicine, based in St. Louis. "People in the working ages of life are having strokes with greater regularity than ever before."
After analyzing data on 7,740 people treated for stroke at a St. Louis hospital between 1999 and 2008, the researchers found that 45 percent were under 65 and 27 percent were under the age of 55.
This differs drastically from data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which states that 66 percent of all strokes occur in people over 65, the researchers noted.
Most of the strokes among those under 65 were mild. About 71 percent of patients who had a mild to moderate stroke were discharged directly home, discharged with home services only, or discharged with outpatient services only, the researchers found.
On follow-up, 46 percent of those with a mild stroke said they were working slower, 42 percent said they were not able to do their job as well, 31 percent said they were not able to stay organized and 52 percent said they had problems concentrating.
"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 said.
"If you are young and have a mild stroke, chances are you will not receive rehabilitation services," Wolf said. "That does not mean that you do not have any impairments. It means that we as a health-care community are not doing a good enough job at detecting the more subtle deficits associated with mild stroke."
The researchers call on the health-care community 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.
"Right now, our services are heavily weighted toward assessment and intervention for motor impairments and preparing an individual with a stroke to return home," Wolf said. 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."
(Xinhua News Agency September 3, 2009)