Would we be healthier or live longer if we were given more information to prevent debilitating health conditions like stroke or dementia? That’s what a group of researchers in Germany set out to determine with a recent study. What they found confirmed the old adage, “knowledge is power.”
For the study, researchers followed almost 4,000 people aged 55 and older living in a rural community. Their family doctors were given brochures summarizing prevention and treatment recommendations for stroke and dementia. The doctors encouraged patients to:
- Get more exercise
- Eat a healthier diet
- Stop smoking
- Reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels
The team compared outcomes among these patients to another 13,000 people in a nearby town who received care that did not focus on the prevention of these health problems.
Over the course of five years, patients treated by doctors focused on reducing risk factors for stroke and dementia saw their need for expensive long-term care drop by about 10 percent compared to the communities that didn't have this intervention. The cost of inpatient treatment for these patients was also reduced.
The researchers also believe that receiving prevention guidance reduced the number of deaths in the intervention group from the expected 2,112 people to 1,939.
"Primary prevention pays off," said the study’s lead author, Horst Bickel. “We found that not only the risk of long-term care dependence was lower, but also that death rates decreased,” Bickel said. “In addition, the cost of inpatient treatment was reduced in the intervention region.”
"At the population level, even simple measures can lead to substantial achievements," Bickel said. "Our results are only one example of how health risks can be reduced through uncomplicated, routine treatment of risk factors in the framework of a real-world setting."
The study's authors noted their results could be applied to the United States and other Western populations that have sedentary lifestyles.
American Heart Association