BACKGROUND: Stroke is a leading cause of death and functional impairment. While older people are particularly vulnerable to stroke, research suggests that they have the poorest awareness of stroke warning signs and risk factors. This study examined knowledge of stroke warning signs and risk factors among community-dwelling older adults.
METHODS: Randomly selected community-dwelling older people (aged 65+) in Ireland (n = 2,033; 68% response rate). Participants completed home interviews. Questions assessed knowledge of stroke warning signs and risk factors, and personal risk factors for stroke.
RESULTS: Of the overall sample, 6% had previously experienced a stroke or transient ischaemic attack. When asked to identify stroke risk factors from a provided list, less than half of the overall sample identified established risk factors (e.g., smoking, hypercholesterolaemia), hypertension being the only exception (identified by 74%). Similarly, less than half identified established warning signs (e.g., weakness, headache), with slurred speech (54%) as the exception. Overall, there were considerable gaps in awareness with poorest levels evident in those with primary level education only and in those living in Northern Ireland (compared with Republic of Ireland).
CONCLUSION: Knowledge deficits in this study suggest that most of the common early symptoms or signs of stroke were recognized as such by less than half of the older adults surveyed. As such, many older adults may not recognise early symptoms of stroke in themselves or others. Thus, they may lose vital time in presenting for medical attention. Lack of public awareness about stroke warning signs and risk factors must be addressed as one important contribution to reducing mortality and morbidity from stroke.
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