Picture six people in a room – a dinner party – now picture one of them being devastated by a stroke. That stroke taking their capacity to speak, to walk unassisted, to even eat the delicious meal placed in front of them.
This is the terrifying reality for all too many Australians. This chilling statistic, that one in six people will have a stroke in their lifetime, represents just the tip of the iceberg that is the brutal reality of stroke in this country.
When I took on the role of CEO at the National Stroke Foundation in 2002 there were around 120,000 Australians who had suffered a stroke. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of Australia’s stroke burden and its tragic human cost.
I wish I could tell you that in 2015 things were getting better. But sadly, the number of stroke survivors in Australia has more than tripled since then and by 2050 this number is likely to soar to more than 700,000 sufferers – a stroke epidemic.
It is unacceptable that last year alone more than 11,000 Australians lost their lives to this insidious disease. Unacceptable that thousands more were left with permanent disability. What makes me angrier still is that most of these people could’ve been saved from unnecessary death and disability. Many strokes are preventable.
There are things we can all do to help protect ourselves from stroke and other chronic illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes. Simple things like being aware of and managing our blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet, stopping smoking and heavy drinking and exercising. A simple message but one that just doesn’t seem to have been heard.
Australia is in the midst of a chronic disease crisis. According to recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare research more than two thirds of Australians are living with illnesses caused by these types of modifiable risk factors. The study found that around two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, almost half are inactive and more than thirty per cent have high blood pressure.
Of all these risk factors, high blood pressure is one of the most common and most modifiable risk factors for stroke. Of the four million Australians living with high blood pressure, too many of them are completely unaware they are living with a ticking time bomb.
The National Stroke Foundation is hosting Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check on Wednesday, 6 May as part of our efforts to change this.
As healthcare professionals, pharmacists see the devastating effects that stroke can have on people and their family. Pharmacists play a key role in ongoing care and prevention, including delivering important health checks and advice.
Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check is a fantastic example of pharmacists working together with the National Stroke Foundation to help the community manage their stroke risk. With every blood pressure check taken this Wednesday, pharmacists are helping to spread awareness about stroke and saving countless lives in the process.
Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check is all about getting people to take five minutes out of their day to have a simple, free and quick blood pressure check along with a cardiovascular and diabetes risk assessment, and find out more about stroke.
The checks will be available at key CBD locations across the country. People will also be able to get checked at their local Chemmart Pharmacy.
This is the second year we are setting out to take the blood pressure of the nation and we’re on a mission to give more checks and save more lives. Last year, in one day, we checked more than 10,000 people – shockingly around a quarter were found to be at risk and referred to their GP. This year we hope to take the blood pressure of more than 15,000 Australians and raise vital awareness of stroke and its risk factors.
I don’t want to be here in a year’s time telling you that nothing has changed. I don’t want to have to tell you that the number of strokes continue to climb; that more Australians face permanent disability; that millions in the community continue to put themselves at risk.
A stroke epidemic is looming if we don’t take action now.
By National Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Dr Erin Lalor (pictured centre)