Services for stroke survivors under 65 ‘fall short’

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Stroke survivors are being abandoned once they leave hospital with many suffering anxiety, depression and unemployment long after they have been discharged.

The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) says the outlook is particularly bleak for younger stroke survivors, who find services are tailored for older and retired people rather than those who need to get back to work.

A survey of 500 working-age stroke survivors found that while 88% of them were in employment before their stroke, only 36% got back to work afterwards and 70% had suffered a significant fall in income since their stroke.

It also found that 95% reported suffering anxiety due to their stroke, while 77% felt angry, 75% felt depressed and 72% felt isolated. Yet 71% of those requiring counselling either received none at all or an inadequate service.

Almost half (44%) of those who needed physiotherapy as part of their recovery had to pay for private sessions to access services or received no services at all.

More than 8,000 people suffer stroke in Ireland each year and it is the third biggest killer after heart disease and cancer. About 2,000 of those who are hospitalised are of working age — a figure that has jumped by 26% in seven years.

However, the IHF said despite the growing incidence of stroke among younger people, services have stood still.

Chris Macy, IHF head of advocacy, said: “This study underlines the alarming extent to which younger stroke survivors are struggling to get their lives back on track after leaving hospital and how little help many are getting.”

Mr Macy said there had been great advances on the medical front in helping people survive stroke and its worst effects.

However, he said: “The improvements in stroke services in recent years have been achieved within the hospital system. This has resulted in thousands of additional lives being saved.

But there has been no corresponding investment in community rehabilitation services so stroke survivors’ recoveries are being squandered, with younger people particularly falling off the radar in terms of services.

The survey, published on National Stroke Survivor Day, found most of those who were in receipt of homecare packages had their cases handled by the branch of the HSE that dealt with the needs of older people — a source of anger and annoyance to 70% of recipients.

“If you have a stroke in your 30s, you might live with its effects for half a century,” said Mr Macy. “But any homecare package you get will almost certainly be designed to meet the needs of an older person.

“All these factors are combining to create high levels of anger, anxiety, depression and isolation that not only impede recovery but may increase the risk of another stroke. It makes no sense that huge effort and expertise is going into saving people’s lives only for them to be abandoned at the hospital gates.”

A stroke audit carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation and the HSE in 2016 showed a 26% increase in the rate of strokes among those aged under 65 compared to the previous audit in 2008.

The HSE said that it was working on a five-year stroke strategy based on four ‘pillars of care’.

“The ‘Acute Care and Cure’ and ‘Rehabilitation and Restoration to Living’ pillars of stroke care aim to improve access to rehabilitation and improve outcomes for stroke patients,” it said.

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