The projections are not pretty for aging populations in the U.S.
Already, stroke is one of the top four leading causes of death among Americans, especially among Hispanic and African-American men and women. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), almost one in 25 Americans will have a stroke, and this number is estimated to keep rising. In fact, by 2030, stroke incidence is estimated to rise by 20%.
In a recent statement published in Stroke, an AHA journal, costs to treat stroke may soar from $72 billion to a whopping $183 billion. Not to mention the annual costs due to loss of productivity, which will jump to $56 billion from $34 billion.
What makes strokes so pricey? They often lead to long-term disability. The report says 90% of stroke patients have some form of disability after stroke; only 10% fully recover.
Surprisingly, the AHA statement reports that the age group that’s expected to have the highest increase in stroke incidence — 5.1% — are individuals between ages 45 and 64.
That seems young, doesn’t it?
This age group also has a higher prevalence of heart-related disease, such as diabetes and obesity. Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele, lead study author and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, says the connection isn’t fully understood “because this is a 40,000-foot view of things.”
But studies in various regions appear to show that this age group is more susceptible to obesity and diabetes, both of which are independent risk factors for stroke. “That’s why we are beginning to see this surge in their rates of strokes,” says Ovbiagele.
Obesity and diabetes tends to not be so concerning, at least in the context of the stroke epidemic, for older populations.
The 45- to 62-year-old demographic also struggles with the cost of care, since they’re too young for Medicare and may struggle to afford medications.
“We know that this group has been at risk because they tend to not have insurance. They also tend to be a bit more optimistic about their health,” says Ovbiagele.
Prevention is likely the most promising approach to decreasing stroke numbers. “As I say to all my patients, the best stroke is a stroke you never had,” says Ovbiagele. Some health experts estimate that 80% of strokes are preventable, and controlling factors like cholesterol and diabetes could help significantly.
“No matter what we do, we will probably have strokes, but we want to get people who have strokes to get treatment on time,” says Dr. Ovbiagele.
As always, maintaining a healthy diet and getting adequate physical activity are easy, low-cost ways people can curb their risk for stroke and improve their overall well-being. You can read more of the AHA’s recommendations for stroke prevention here.