Why do some stroke patients live longer than others?

Anna Meyer (left) receives the award from Linda Kridahl, chair, Swedish Demographic Association and researcher at the Stockholm Demography Unit.
Anna Meyer (left) receives the award from Linda Kridahl, President of the Swedish Demographic Association and researcher at the Stockholm Demography Unit.

Author: Amber Beckley

The Stockholm University Demography Unit, SUDA, at the Department of Sociology recently invited Anna Meyer to give a talk on her award-winning master’s thesis, “Having children is associated with a longer survival after ischemic stroke. A population-based cohort study of 62,580 Swedes over the age of 65.” Anna’s thesis was voted the Best Thesis of 2017 by the Swedish Demographic Association. The award, which included a gift of 5000 Swedish crowns, was presented to Anna Meyer at SUDA on October 25, 2018 by Linda Kridahl, Research Fellow at SUDA and President of the Swedish Demographic Association.

I sat down with Ms. Meyer after her talk to discuss her research. Anna Meyer is currently a PhD student at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institute, partly supervised by Sven Drefahl, researcher at SUDA.

I think people may be surprised by the title of your dissertation. Why would we think having children and long survival after a stroke are related anyway?

We know from past research that parents survive longer than non-parents. We think one reason may be due to social support provided by children. Many people who experience non-fatal stroke become disabled and need extra care at home. People with children, both men and women, may be able to rely on their family members for this care and receive care that goes beyond the minimum. We think that leads to longer survival among stroke patients.

How many people have stroke/fatal stroke each year in Sweden?

Around 30,000 people have a stroke in Sweden each year and about 4,000 die from the disease. Annually, people with stroke spend the longest time in the hospital and more than half of stroke survivors depend on help in daily life one year after the stroke.

Your study only looks at people who are 65 years of age and older. Are there many people having stroke before that age?

Ischemic stroke is related to ischemic heart disease, which tends to occur in elderly people. In Sweden, only around 15% of all strokes happen before age 65. So, in my study I am capturing the people normally affected by ischemic stroke.

We obviously can’t force people to have children. So what are the implications of your findings for lowering the risk of death after stroke?

No, we cannot force people to have children! The results of my study showed that having a couple of children was associated with longer survival. This could have implications for improving care among the elderly after stroke. For instance, people without children may benefit from things like help getting their medication, better access to stroke rehabilitation, and even help renovating their home to improve disability access.


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