|Posted: February 2014
Foundation’s 2014 Report on the Health of Canadians shows more people are surviving heart attacks and strokes, but they face challenges and lack support to thrive to the fullest
More Canadians are surviving a heart attack or stroke than ever before, but they are not all able to make and maintain potentially life-saving behaviour changes, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation 2014 Report on the Health of Canadians (PDF).
Over the last 60 years the death rate has declined more than 75 per cent. This means that now, more than 90 per cent of Canadians who have a heart attack and more than 80 per cent who have a stroke and make it to the hospital will survive. Last year alone, there were 165,000 survivors of heart disease or stroke. While this is cause for celebration, much work remains to be done.
The Foundation conducted a poll* of 2,000 heart attack and stroke survivors (and loved ones who were able to answer on their behalf). The poll revealed that when it comes to physical activity, managing stress and maintaining a healthy weight, survivors are struggling to make and maintain these important healthy changes.
“We cannot control all the factors that put us at risk for cardiovascular disease, but there are healthy changes people can make to largely prevent them from having a heart attack or stroke in the first place, including eating a healthy diet, being physically active, being smoke-free, managing stress and limiting alcohol consumption,” says Dr. Beth Abramson, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson and author of Heart Health for Canadians. “And for people living with cardiovascular disease, these healthy behaviours are especially important and could prevent them from landing back in the hospital. But we need more research, more education, and an environment that supports these healthy behaviours.”
Survivors face barriers to change
The good news, according to our poll, is that seven in 10 survivors feel they are at least living a little healthier since their heart attack or stroke. The areas where survivors report the most success in making and maintaining healthy changes include eating healthier, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption. However, this also means that there are many survivors who need more help to make healthy changes, or who would benefit from assistance to get them started on a healthy path.
Nadia Bender, a 46-year-old fitness instructor and heart attack survivor,knows the importance of family in the recovery process. “I relied on my family for so much during my recovery – from daily chores, to helping out with my three kids – I simply didn’t have the energy and stamina for it all. Their support also helped with my mental health and kept my stress levels in check, two important components of recovery.”
The role of rehabilitation
However, evidence shows that only about one-third of cardiac survivors who are eligible for rehabilitation are referred to a program, and only 19 per cent of all stroke patients are discharged from acute care to a rehabilitation facility.
Creating more survivors
“As a community we have learned so much over the years about heart disease and stroke,” says Bobbe Wood, President, Heart and Stroke Foundation. “We are proud that Foundation-funded research and advocacy efforts have contributed to the decline in the death rate from cardiovascular disease. We’ve come such a long way, but we know our work is not done.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s mission is to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery. A volunteer-based health charity, we strive to tangibly improve the health of every Canadian family, every day. Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen. heartandstroke.ca
*The poll was conducted online by Environics Research Group between November 25 and December 3, 2013 with a sample of 2,010 Canadians. Respondents were screened to identify those who had survived a heart attack or stroke (n=465), or who had a living immediate family member or very close friend who had a heart attack or stroke in the past 10 years (n=1,545). Those who were loved ones of a survivor were asked to respond to questions about their perceptions of the survivor’s experiences.