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Community Education in Recognition of Stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 800,000 people in the United States experience a stroke each year. In addition, one person in the United States will die from a stroke every four minutes. Even if an individual survives a stroke, it may cause long term or permanent damage.

The good news is that a stroke can often be prevented. According to the National Stroke Association, about 80 percent of strokes could be prevented by reducing risk factors. The problem is that many people are unaware of what they can do to decrease their personal risk for stroke.

Additionally, although healthcare workers know the signs and symptoms of a stroke, the general population often does not.  Community education regarding recognition of strokes can be an excellent way to increase public awareness and decrease deaths from stroke.

Benefits

As with many diseases and illnesses, stroke education is important for a number of reasons. Becoming educated about the risks and ways to reduce risk factors can decrease the number of strokes which occur each year. In some instances, people may not be ignoring their health- they may simply be unaware that they are at risk.

It is common for people who do not work in healthcare to have misconceptions or misinformation which may not be completely accurate. Getting the correct information out there to the public is essential to creating stroke awareness. Understanding the signs of a stroke and getting help immediately can save a person’s life and improve their prognosis.

Program Components

A community education program should consist of several different components, including the following:

Stroke Effects: A stroke prevention and awareness program should start with information on what a stroke is and how it can impact your life. For example, stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability.  Information on the deficits a stroke can cause, such as weakness, vision loss, memory problems and speech difficulties is important to teach. Understanding the seriousness of a stroke and how it can impact a person’s life may motivate participants to make the necessary changes to decrease their risk of stroke. 

Stroke Warning Signs: Although most people are aware that chest pain is a sign of a heart attack, signs of a stroke may not be as well understood. Educating the public on signs of stroke, such as facial drooping, arm weakness and difficulty speaking should be discussed.  

Risk Factors: Participants should be made aware of both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors.  Risk factors which cannot be changed include age. People are at an increased risk of experiencing a stroke as they age. Gender is also a risk factor which cannot be changed. According to the American Heart Association, women experience more strokes than men. Race also plays a role in your risk of having a stroke. African Americans are at increased risk of dying from a stroke. Although patients cannot control these factors, they should be informed so that they can assess their personal risk.

Stroke Prevention Tips and Controllable Risks. This is one of the most important components of a community stroke recognition program. Modifiable risk factors are one area where people can take charge of their health and make the changes necessary to lower their stroke risk. Controllable risk factors include smoking, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol and poor diet. As part of a community stroke recognition program information must be presented which teaches participants ways to reduce these risk factors and improve their health.

Resources for Additional Information: Participants in a stroke recognition program should be made aware of resources where they can obtain further information or assistance. For example, information on smoking cessation classes or fitness programs may be useful.

Tips for a Successful Program

  • Incorporate Varied Learning Tools: Remember that learning is accomplished through various methods. Lecturing, providing written information, visual tools and the inclusion of speakers may all play a role in a community education program.
  • Information presented by experts in the field can include lectures, question and answer periods and personal stories shared by speakers who have survived a stroke. Implementing various learning tools and methods can make a community stroke education program more interesting and successful.
  • Identify populations at high risk for a stroke and develop techniques to educate these priority populations. This may involve community outreach and partnering with medical centers and emergency medical services in the community.

Article Sources

American Heart Association. Effects of a Stroke. http://strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/EffectsofStroke/Effects-of-Stroke_UCM_308534_SubHomePage.jsp Accessed July 2014.

National Stroke Association. Stroke Prevention. http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=PREVENT  Accessed July 2014.  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stroke Facts. http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm  Accessed July 2014.