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Preventive Measures Pay Off for Those at Risk of Stroke

TUESDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Helping patients avoid stroke and dementia risk factors, such as high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes, can leave them with a longer, healthier old age, a new study finds.

Researchers in Germany also found that by following recommended treatment guidelines and goals, fewer patients at high risk for stroke and dementia will need expensive long-term care.

"Primary prevention pays off," the study's lead author, Horst Bickel, senior researcher in the department of psychiatry at the Technical University of Munich, said in a news release from the American Heart Association. "We found that not only the risk of long-term care dependence was lower, but also that death rates decreased."

In conducting the study, the researchers followed almost 4,000 people aged 55 and older living in a rural region of Germany. Their family doctors were given brochures summarizing treatment recommendations for stroke and dementia.

Bickel's team compared outcomes among these patients to another 13,000 people in a nearby town who received care that did not focus on the prevention of these health problems.

Over the course of five years, patients treated by doctors focused on reducing risk factors saw their need for long-term care drop by about 10 percent compared to the communities that didn't have this intervention. The study also showed that the cost of inpatient treatment for these patients was reduced.

The researchers believe a focus on curbing stroke and dementia risk factors decreased the number of deaths in the intervention group from the expected 2,112 people to just 1,939.

In order to prevent stroke and dementia, doctors encouraged patients to:

  • Get more exercise
  • Eat a healthier diet
  • Stop smoking
  • Reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels

"At the population level, even simple measures can lead to substantial achievements," Bickel said. "Our results are only one example of how health risks can be reduced through uncomplicated, routine treatment of risk factors in the framework of a real-world setting."

The study's authors noted their results could be applied to the United States and other Western populations that have sedentary lifestyles.

The study was published July 17 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on stroke prevention.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: The American Heart Association, news release, July 17, 2012.

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