Working stroke survivors struggle to make ends meet

Two thirds of younger, working age stroke survivors face economic hardship and are often forced to use savings or sell assets to pay basic living expenses, a new Australian study has found.

While one third of younger stroke survivors, aged between 18 and 65, reported economic hardship before their stroke, this increased to two thirds who suffered hardship in the 12 months following their stroke, the investigation by The George Institute for Global Health revealed.

About 12,000 Australians of working age will survive a stroke this year – a figure that is expected to increase by more than 5000 in the next five years. Most stroke victims are about 79 years of age, with the first stroke usually occurring around 77 years.

Beverley Essue, Health Economist from The George Institute for Global Health, said the POISE (Psychosocial Outcomes in Stroke) study was the first to measure the economic burden experienced by younger stroke survivors.

“We were interested in understanding the impact on the household because we knew anecdotally that illness in younger, working age Australians can pose a severe economic burden,” she said.

“We found these younger stroke survivors struggled to pay basic living and medical expenses, schooling or childcare costs and regularly used savings, borrowed money, sold assets or asked for financial assistance.

“The economic burden also has a lasting effect; hardship was sustained up to 12 months for most, despite 75% of those previously in paid employment returning to paid work.”

The study also revealed a significant impact on income. A year after a stroke, three quarters of middle income earners could not sustain their pre-stroke income level, with one third dropping into the low income bracket.

She said the results also showed a decrease of those in the highest income bracket. Among those who reported high income before stroke, 11% had dropped to the low income category at 12 months after their stroke.

“It doesn’t matter what your pre-stroke level of income was – you can still end up in financial strife without access to support.

“We identified policy supports that can buffer stroke survivors from financial hardship.

“Timely access to support programs and other more targeted strategies are needed, particularly for those who are unable to return to work after a stroke. This might involve temporary safety net mechanisms or more rapid access to income support programs immediately after a stroke.

“Most younger stroke survivors want to return to work and will do so if they are able, but they may require some interim support as a buffer during the rehabilitation process,” she said.   

About the study

This study recruited 440 younger stroke survivors (i.e. between the ages of 17 and 65 years) within 28 days of having a stroke. Participants were followed up over 12 months. Data collection occurred between October 2008 and June 2010. The average age was 52.

Equivalised household income, weighting for household composition, was grouped into the following categories: low income (<AUD$600 per week), middle income (AUD$600 to AUD$1000 per week) and high income (>AUD$1000 per week). The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia.