Numbers of Strokes Fall Among People 65 and Older During the Last Two Decades

Fewer older Americans are having strokes and those who do suffer a stroke have a lower risk of dying from them, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study found a 24 percent overall decline in first-time strokes in each of the last two decades and a 20 percent overall drop per decade in deaths after stroke. However, the decline in stroke risk was concentrated mainly in people over age 65 with little progress in reducing the risk of strokes among younger people.

“We can congratulate ourselves that we are doing well, but stroke is still the number four cause of death in the United States,” says study co-author Josef Coresh, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This research points out the areas that need improvement. It also reminds us that there are many forces threatening to push stroke rates back up and if we don’t address them head-on, our gains may be lost.”

Coresh says he worries about what the future of stroke will look like as the obesity epidemic, which began in the 1990s, continues and millions of those are diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes—which are often linked to obesity– they face an increased risk for stroke.

For their analysis, researchers used results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, a prospective study of 15,792 residents of four U.S. communities who were between the ages of 45 and 64 when the study began in the late 1980s. The researchers followed 14,357 participants who were free of stroke in 1987, looking specifically for all stroke hospitalizations and deaths between then and the end of 2011. The results were similar across race and gender.

The researchers say the decrease in stroke incidence and mortality is partly due to more successful control of risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking cessation and use of statin medications for controlling cholesterol, but that more efforts are needed to reduce strokes in younger people.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

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