A news release from the University of Michigan Health System reports that while a “record number” of individuals are surviving strokes and heart attacks, those that do may face a sharp decline in physical abilities that, over time, steadily worsens. The findings stem from a new nationally representative study lead by the University of Michigan. According to the release, stroke and heart attack were linked to a rapid decline in survivors’ ability to take care of themselves during the next 10 years, with many requiring long-term assistance for daily activities that include dressing, bathing, grocery shopping, and managing finances. Additionally, the results suggest that stroke survivors were also at a higher risk of depression and mental declines, including memory loss.

The study’s findings appear in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes

While more people are surviving stroke and heart attack than ever before, long-term consequences could be much greater than previously thought, says Deborah Levine, MD, MPH, assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of general medicine and the Stroke Program in the U-M Medical School, and researcher in the VA Center for Clinical Management Research.

“We found that over time, survivors had increasing difficulty performing everyday tasks like walking, bathing, shopping, and managing money, and that these struggles got progressively worse every year following a heart attack or stroke,” Levin explains.

The release reports that during a time period of 10 years, survivors of heart attack gained approximately 1.5 to 3.5 new functional limitations and stroke survivors gained approximately 3.5 to 4.5 limitations.

The findings indicate that stroke and heart attack survivors should be screened and monitored for functional disability long after discharge from the hospital, as they may require additional help over the years post-stroke or heart attack, adds Theodore Iwashyna, MD, PhD, associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and researcher in the Institute of Social Research and the VA center for Clinical Management Research.

During the study, the release states that researchers also found that the new functional limitations contributed to significant increases in depressive symptoms among survivors of stroke and heart attack. The risk of developing severe depressive symptoms were 20% greater for every new functional limitation gained post-heart attack and 34% greater for every new functional limitation gained post-stroke.

Levin calls for further research to “to develop cost-effective methods of care to best manage the needs of this growing and vulnerable population.”

[Source: University of Michigan Health System]