The steps they took may seem like common sense, but a neurologist in Chicago says we might be surprised. A recent study in Germany found that patients guided by a physician on ways to prevent stroke or dementia risk factors lived longer.
This study is important to note during September, which is Healthy Aging Month.
In the study, doctors guided about 4,000 people in rural Germany ages 55 and older over a five-year period. The doctors focused on cutting risk factors by encouraging patients to:
- Get more exercise
- Eat a healthier diet
- Stop smoking
- Reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels
The patients’ need for long-term care dropped by about 10 percent, the cost of inpatient treatment went down, and so did the number of deaths.
“That’s remarkable,” said Dr. James Brorson, Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Chicago and Medical director of the Primary Stroke Center. “What’s remarkable is that through what they described as simple interventions – they were actually able to change behavior.”
Brorson says sparking behavioral change is the hardest part – how to get them to exercise, eat better, or quit smoking.
“It sounds like a lot of what they’re doing is altering the physician’s [consultative] behavior as well as the patient,” he said.
He says the change in behavior talked about in the German study, like stopping smoking and taking steps to reduce hypertension, helps stop the build-up of plaque. That plaque can directly cause a stroke, or can cause cardiac problems, like congestive heart failure, which then can cause a stroke.
“Doing those things, we know will help – it’s again, getting the message out and getting people motivated,” Brorson said.
Brorson says he still has to tell his patients to stop smoking.
“Who knows what people might not think of?” he said. “Sometimes it’s a surprise to them that cocaine use is a risk factor.”
While hearing the advice from a professional doctor may be part of what worked in Germany, Brorson says anyone’s advice can help.
“I think attacking it from every side is the right thing to do,” he said.