Australian Women Challenge Stroke Survival Assumptions

Mar 8 2016

New research from The University of Newcastle (UON) has challenged assumptions on how long women will live after stroke, even with significant physical impairment.

Lead author Dr Isobel Hubbard said the study shows that many older Australian women who survive stroke live longer than 15 years with poor physical function.

“This means we need to reconsider the support and rehabilitation programs that improve their quality of life and ensure they support women right through their later years,” Dr Hubbard said.

The team used 15 years of data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), which is conducted jointly by UON and The University of Queensland.

For this project, researchers analysed long-term post-stroke outcomes, comparing women with poor physical function and those with adequate physical function.

“Almost half of the women who experienced stroke with significant physical impairment survived 10 years and 27 per cent were still alive after 15 years,” Dr Hubbard said. “Those with adequate physical function had better rates of survival – 63 per cent at 10 years and 42 per cent at 15.”

Dr Hubbard said the study, which looked at women born between 1921 and 1926, found that few recovered from the low levels of physical function reported after they had recovered from the acute effects of their stroke.

“Given that many of these women can expect to live for a significant time we need to think about the quality of that life. Is there sufficient opportunity, incentive and support for older women after stroke to enable them to experience the best long-term recovery possible?”

The risk of another stroke during the study period was five times higher in those women who reported a prior stroke, and six times higher in those who had low levels of physical function.

Dr Hubbard said Australia does not have a national strategy to maintain or improve physical function in older stroke survivors.

“This research gives a ‘voice’ to the long-term needs of older women living with stroke for more than 15 years,” she said.

“We believe this research should be taken into account when it comes to estimating the burden of stroke across women’s later life, and in planning for their health and aged care needs.”

The research has been published in the American Heart Association journal STROKE:

* Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) is a long-running survey funded by the Australian Government Department of Health to provide evidence to develop and evaluate policies to lead to better health for all Australian women.  Now in its 20th year, ALSWH involves more than 50,000 women in four cohorts, selected from the Australian population.  ALSWH contributes to global knowledge of women’s health through national and international research collaborations and is conducted by staff and investigators at The University of Newcastle and The University of Queensland.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.