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Poor understanding of stroke signs causes concern

27 November 2014

Media release

For immediate release

26 November 2014

Poor understanding of stroke signs causes concern in New Zealand

Latest figures show a lack of awareness and understanding in New Zealand of stroke signs, which will have a significant impact on stroke survivors having the best chance of recovery.

Mark Vivian, CEO of the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand, said recent research into stroke awareness in the Waikato alone has shown alarming results.

“Last month the Stroke Foundation conducted a survey of 352 Waikato residents over 45 years of age to gauge their understanding of the symptoms of stroke. Only one in five could correctly identify three typical signs of a stroke,” said Mr Vivian.

“These figures are incredibly concerning because if we can’t recognise a stroke from the onset, that causes a delay in getting to medical intervention and treatment, which can have tragic consequences, including further brain damage or death,” he explained.

Current statistics from the Ministry of Health show about 9,000 New Zealanders have a stroke every year. Tragically 2,500 of those people die, making stroke the third largest killer in New Zealand after heart disease and cancer.

“Of the survivors, half will have long term disabilities or need significant daily support, and 15% will need full-time institutionalised care,” said Mr Vivian.

“The key to reducing the risk of long term health issues or death is recognising the signs of stroke and getting the person to the hospital as quickly as possible.”

Up to half of all stroke cases can be treated with clot-busting drugs (thrombolysis or tPA) if the patient arrives at the hospital emergency department within three hours of the stroke’s onset.

“The reality is that stroke is a common health issue in New Zealand and one in eight people will have a stroke at some point in their life. The number of strokes will only increase as the population continues to age and grow,” he said.

“Our job is to educate our communities, make sure they can spot the signs and know how to act should an event ever happen in their presence. Fortunately, we have had additional funding from the Ministry of Health this year to promote our ‘F.A.S.T’ campaign and create stronger awareness of stroke signs in the Waikato.”

‘F.A.S.T’ stands for Face-Arm-Speech-Time. Face – is it drooping on one side? Arm – is one arm weak. Speech – is it jumbled or slurred or lost? Time – time is critical, so call 111. The mnemonic aims to help people remember three of the most common symptoms of stroke.

“Other countries around the world including Australia, USA and the UK have seen value in a similar campaign, so we hope that this campaign with have a positive impact and improve understanding around the signs of stroke,” he said.

As part of the broader campaign, the Stroke Foundation has partnered with other organisations including the Red Cross, St John, Work and Income NZ and Housing New Zealand to spread ‘F.A.S.T’ resources to the community and reach more people.

There are an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors living in New Zealand, and at least half have significant disability and need daily support.

Lifetime costs per stroke patient in New Zealand were estimated in 2009 at $73,600 per person, with a total cost to the country of over $450 million annually.



• Each year around 9,000 people have a stroke – that’s about 24 New Zealanders every day

• 2,500 people die from stroke each year, which makes it the third largest killer in New Zealand after heart disease and cancer

• One in eight people will have a stroke at some point in their life

• One in four strokes occur in people under 65 years of age

• The average age at which people have a stroke is about 75 years old. For Pacific people it is 65, and for Maori it is 60


• A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, causing brain cell damage. Basically, it is a brain attack

• Disabilities from stroke make it one of the highest consumers of hospital beds, services and community support in this country

• Up to half of all stroke cases could be treated with clot-busting drugs (thrombolysis or tPA) if they arrive within three hours of the stroke’s onset at a hospital where they can be scanned and given the drugs (in many cases this can reduce the damage done by the stroke or even reverse the symptoms entirely)

• Delayed recognition of a stroke means delayed medical intervention – which can have tragic consequences, including further damage to the brain or death


FAST stands for:

FACE - Is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile?

ARM - Is one arm weak? Can they raise both arms?

SPEECH - Is their speech jumbled or slurred? Can they speak at all?

TIME - Time is critical. Call 111.

The FAST acronym was developed by stroke researchers in the United States in the late 1990s as an effective way for people to recognise three key stroke symptoms and to act fast if a stroke is suspected. Subsequent evaluation of the FAST message by researchers in the US found it sufficient to pick up 88.9 percent of strokes and TIAs (‘mini strokes’).

Campaigns to spread the FAST message have run successfully in the UK, Australia and the USA. Evaluations in Australia, the UK and Ireland have shown increased public recognition of stroke symptoms and increased stroke calls to emergency services following advertising campaign activity.


352 people aged over 45 years old living in the Waikato region were surveyed between 6 - 16 October by Colmar Brunton Omnijet to gauge their understanding of the symptoms of stroke.

Summary of results:

• The most recalled symptom (recalled by one in seven people) associated with a medical stroke was losing the ability to speak coherently

• Other symptoms recalled in the top five were the weaknesses that occurs on one side of the face and down the side of the body as well as limb function loss/lack of mobility

• Females 60+ were more likely to recall the droopiness to the face

• 50-59 year olds are more likely to recall the weakness to the side of the body

• Generally older couples are more likely to correctly recall symptoms of a medical stroke than older singles living alone

• Males aged over 60 years old are significantly more likely to recall a loss/blurred vision compared to the total, and this is not a well-known symptom amongst females

• One in five Waikato residents over 45 years old can correctly identify all three core signs of a medical stroke. Females over 60 years old are significantly more likely to correctly mention all three. There is also a strong level of crossover for those who recall speech AND arm and those who recall speech AND face.

• Females, particularly those over 60+ are most likely to recall symptoms that occur over the face. 40-49 year olds are less educated in this area but are significantly more likely to recall speech impediments.

• The challenge is to build awareness around the signs that arise on the face and in the body.

© Scoop Media

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