The signs of stroke

Posted on 14 April 2015 by

There are many important awareness campaigns around health and disability.

Sometimes they’re about building social inclusion, other times about encouraging a healthy lifestyle to prevent a certain condition, others are about raising funds for services and assistance.

Awareness campaigns, like National Stroke Week, focusing on the warning signs of stroke have a particularly direct effect on public health. After a stroke, every minute until treatment counts. The more people know the signs, the more lives will be saved and the more impairment reduced.

But it’s increasingly hard to get this message out in a way that sticks. A 2009 study (reported in the International Journal of Stroke, 2012*) looked at the effect of the $940,000 advertising campaign from the Australian National Stroke Foundation. Ten months before the campaign, knowledge of the F.A.S.T principles was low. The percentage of people who knew each principle were as follows:

  • Facial drooping: 44 percent
  • Arm weakness: 30 percent
  • Speech difficulties: 21 percent
  • Time is of the essence: 14 percent 
Two-weeks after the campaign, which featured TV, radio, print, social media, and community messaging, recall of each principal had increased minimally - as shown below:
  • Facial drooping: 47 percent (3 percent increase)
  • Arm weakness: 36 percent 6 percent increase)
  • Speech difficulties: 27 percent (6 percent increase)
  • Time is of the essence: 14 percent (0 percent increase)

Why is it difficult to convey such simple information? 

Sure, it might be the information age, but with so much competing for our attention, information can gets lost. It’s hard enough for large companies to make us remember whose “prices are down” and which lot are “the fresh food people”. And although health-related stories are popular in magazines and current affairs shows, it’s typically fad diets and miracle creams, with their large profit margins and dubious scientific credibility, that get the space and time.

Knowledge about health changes over time, so we can’t just rely on our childhood educations for health literacy. However, in the 21st century, we may need new strategies to make basic life-saving health facts common knowledge. 

Learn more about stroke in Australia.

*Trobbiani, K., Freeman, K., Arango, M., Lalor, E., Jenkinson, D., and Thrift, A., (2013). "Comparison of stroke warning sign campaigns in Australia, England, and Canada." International Journal Of Stroke,  8, 28-31.

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