Headlines: April 16th, 2009

Concern is being raised today that some older people who suffer strokes are missing out on treatment because of ageism in the National Health Service. Research published in Postgraduate Medical Journal says older stroke victims are not getting the same level of care as younger patients.

The study reveals that older patients are less likely to be given the appropriate diagnostic tests and advice about their lifestyles that is handed out to their younger counterparts. Recent Government investment in stroke services included a push for a more evidenced based approach to care, in the light of an increasingly elderly population at substantially greater risk of recurrent stroke.

The researchers studied the treatment of 379 patients referred to one specialist clinic for a suspected minor stroke or mini-stroke, or transient ischaemic attack in the two years up to 2006. A third of them had not had a stroke or TIA, and of the remaining 250 patients, almost two thirds were under the age of 75. The study found older patients were more likely to be experiencing irregular heart rhythm and to have a lacunar stroke, resulting from narrowed small arteries in the brain, but the average time between the onset of symptoms and the first clinic appointment among the two age groups was the same. Both age groups experienced substantial delays. Younger patients, however, were scanned more quickly and were five times more likely to be given a brain scan.

The report’s authors say: “The results of this study possibly reflect negative views, attitudes and behaviour of healthcare professionals towards older patients,” and they add: “Rationing of care on the basis of age has occurred in other medical areas.”