Recent estimates show that there are approximately 7.6 million myocardial infarction (MI) survivors and 6.8 million stroke survivors living in the United States. These rates are expected to increase by 25% over the next two decades as treatments continue to advance and as the U.S. population lives longer. “MI and strokes are two of the most common healthcare events that Americans survive, but most studies that look at outcomes for these patients focus on short-term data rather than long-term consequences,” says Deborah A. Levine, MD, MPH.


Assessing Post-Event Outcomes

In a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality & Outcomes, Dr. Levine and colleagues looked at acute and long-term effects of MI and stroke on post-event functional disability and cognition while controlling for changes in functioning over a period of years before the event. The authors analyzed Medicare records from 1998-2010 and data from the Health and Retirement study, a national survey of older Americans. The study included 391 MI survivors and 370 stroke survivors.

Results of the study showed that MI and stroke survivors experienced a rapid decline in the physical ability to care for themselves over the next 10 years. Many required long-term assistance for daily activities like dressing, bathing, grocery shopping, and managing finances. “Over time, these struggles progressively worsened every year following an MI or stroke,” Dr. Levine adds.

Over a period of 10 years, survivors of MI gained between 1.5 and 3.5 new functional limitations while stroke survivors gained approximately 3.5 to 4.5 new limitations. These limitations contributed to significant increases in depressive symptoms among MI and stroke survivors. The risk of developing severe depressive symptoms were 20% higher for every new functional limitation gained after an MI and 34% higher for every new functional limitation gained after stroke. Stroke hospitalization significantly increased risks for moderate-to-severe cognitive impairment at the time of the event, even after adjusting for premorbid cognition.


Addressing the Issue

“Our findings suggest that MI and stroke survivors should be screened and monitored for functional disability long after they’re discharged from the hospital,” says Dr. Levine. “These patients have different long-term needs and are likely to require additional help with activities of daily living over the years after their event. We also need a better understanding of the causes and risk factors of functional disability after MI and stroke. With the number of survivors of these events expected to increase, it’s imperative that researchers develop cost-effective methods of care to best manage the needs of this growing and vulnerable population.”