Stroke Awareness Month: Not Just an Elderly Disease - AIG Direct

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It is national stroke month in May and 25% of the 157,000 strokes that occur nationally every year are among people of working age, who will generally have a much better chance of surviving a stroke.

Heart Attack & Stroke Cover

Heart Attack & Stroke Cover

While most people will know of an elderly person who suffered a stroke, we need more awareness that many strokes happen to younger people who still have their lives ahead of them.

However, a new survey of stroke survivors of working age, commissioned by AIG Heart Attack and Stroke in association with UK charity Different Strokes, showed that many experienced financial difficulties during their recovery. Overall, 70% of stroke survivors surveyed experienced a decline in personal income after their stroke.

Of those surveyed who went back to work, the majority (32%) resumed work between 4 and 6 months after the stroke, but 33% went back more than a year after the stroke.

In terms of their current employment status, 17% retired on medical grounds, 16% were able to return to their previous job, but 15% went back to their previous job with modified hours, while 11% now work for a different employer and 7% are self-employed.

Of those that don’t currently work and aren’t looking to work, the most frequent reason cited (40%) is that they don’t feel fit enough, while 38% said they’d like to work but can’t do their previous job, 22% have found it difficult to find work and 22% said they can no longer drive or take public transport to get to work.

Debbie Wilson, Different Strokes spokesperson says, ‘While most people will know of an elderly person who suffered a stroke, we need more awareness that many strokes happen to younger people who still have their lives ahead of them. These stroke survivors need help and support in adjusting to any disability they have and in getting back to work. Employers need to be aware of how they can facilitate a return to work, and understanding colleagues are important too.’

Stroke Symptom Awareness

The good news is that the government’s ‘FAST’ stroke awareness campaign seems to be working, as a separate survey of 1,800 adults surveyed by AIG Heart Attack and Stroke and Different Strokes showed:

  • 84% recognised ‘difficulty speaking’ as a stroke symptom
  • 81% recognised ‘ Weakness, numbness or inability to move the face, arm or leg on one side of the body’
  • 60% recognised ‘Blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes’

However, younger age groups were much less likely to recognise stroke symptoms; of 25-34 year olds:

  • 31% did not recognise ‘difficulty speaking’ as a symptom of strokes
  • 36% did not recognise ‘ Weakness, numbness or inability to move the face, arm or leg on one side of the body’
  • 48% did not recognise ‘Blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes’

Across the board there was far lower recognition of some of the other stroke symptoms that can hinder lives, or affect the return to work, of stroke survivors:

  • only half of those surveyed recognised that stroke survivors can suffer from fatigue – one of the most common results of a stroke
  • 44% recognised that they may have difficulty with reading
  • 43% that they may have difficulty with planning
  • 38% recognised that they may have difficulty with setting goals
  • 33% recognised that they may have severe headaches

A surprising number of all those surveyed thought stroke survivors might suffer from difficulties not habitually associated with the illness:

  •     12% thought they would experience vomiting
  •     1 in 10 thought they would suffer from diarrhoea
  •     9% thought they might suffer from ulcers

Tony’s Story

Tony Goss from Gloucester was 53 and a Senior Manager with the NHS when he suffered a stroke in 2010 with no prior warning symptoms. He woke up one morning, felt a bit strange after a bath and then found he couldn’t get up from the sofa. His wife didn’t know what had happened to him, so she called an ambulance and Tony was rushed to Gloucester Royal Hospital.

Tony had suffered a haemorrhagic stroke – a bleed into the brain. He had no movement on his right side and had lost his speech entirely. He was told by his Consultant that they didn’t know the cause of his stroke. He spent two months in hospital being treated with Warfarin and receiving physiotherapy and speech therapy as he had to learn to walk and talk again.

Tony initially felt very tired when he returned home, as he started to try to do more for himself. He couldn’t concentrate on the TV, could only read a few pages of a book at a time and found it difficult to follow a conversation with more than one or two people at a time.

Tony was declared unfit to return to work and was able to claim his NHS pension, but this meant a lower income than he received when he was in work. Sick pay didn’t last long and there was a delay of 4-5 months without income while the pension was sorted out, which meant his standard of living was badly affected. Tony comments, ‘I didn’t plan for my stroke to happen and it would have helped to have had insurance in place, although I have been luckier than many stroke survivors I know.’

Tony decided to become self-employed but knew he couldn’t return to the sort of work he did before, which required lots of writing and talking. He also could no longer drive, as the stroke led to him developing epilepsy. Tony had good contacts in Gloucester and his Community Stroke Nurse put him in touch with a local social enterprise and he was able to work voluntarily doing consultancy work. He now provides training on how to spot symptoms of anxiety and depression and how to get help if you think you or a friend or family member have a mental illness, in addition to his consultancy work in the mental health field.

Tony comments, ‘When the stroke happened I thought it was the end of my life and I said to my wife when I was in hospital that if the window was opened I’d probably jump through it. Then I decided to make the best of what I’ve got and I realised there is a lot I can do with my life and I haven’t looked back since’.

Notes to Editor:
The AIG Direct Heart Attack and Stroke survey was carried out by Opinion Matters between :03 / 04 / 2013 and 08 / 04 / 2013 with a sample of 1,829 UK adults.

The Different Strokes survey of stroke survivors was conducted between 10th and 15th April 2013 with a sample of 152 adults.

About Different Strokes

Different Strokes is the only national user-led organisation for stroke in the UK. Founded and still largely managed and staffed by younger stroke survivors, Different Strokes understands that younger stroke survivors consider it imperative that they make the best possible recovery both physically and psychologically. To enable them to achieve this it provides free access to relevant information, advice, guidance, support and specialised exercise classes, which all cater for the wide range of disabilities, issues and problems which result from stroke. The organisation remains true to its original goal of self-help and mutual support as, uniquely, services are largely provided by younger stroke survivors.

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Vincenzo Zuccarello
AIG Direct
0800 980 4313
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