By Neil Johnson, Chief Executive of Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiac & Stroke Foundation and the National Institute for Preventive Cardiology
In September, I chaired a European Parliament roundtable with MEPs and five other cardiac patient organisations on Heart Valve Disease and the Power of Positive Ageing.
Our message was simple – heart valve disease is a barrier to active and healthy ageing: early detection, diagnosis and treatment with innovative medical technologies enables positive ageing. Equal access to these technologies was at the core of our discussion.
Heart valve disease is a common and blameless disease of ageing. Around 13% of people aged over-75 have some form of the disease. It is both life-limiting and potentially life-threatening; 50% of people with severe aortic stenosis, the most common form of the disease, will die within 2 years if not appropriately treated.
Yet, it does not have to be like this. Surgical heart valve repair or replacement are proven treatments and we are now living through a period of exciting and impressive advances in treating the disease with minimally invasive and keyhole techniques.
Repairing or replacing a diseased valve can, in effect, cure the condition. Blood will once again flow through the heart the way in which nature designed it and patients can anticipate a better and longer quality of life.
This is where the Power of Positive Ageing comes in. The ageing demographics of Europe are frequently viewed as a negative thing, whereas we believe and know that healthy older people contribute significantly and in very positive ways to our families, communities and economies.
After all, we know that many people over the age of 65 care for their partners or look after grandchildren so that their own children can go to work. In the UK, Age UK estimates that this care is worth £15bn to the country’s economy.
Here in Ireland, our senior population are literally running our communities by volunteering. The Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative (HAPAI) announced recently that 12% of over-70s volunteer in their communities weekly, while a further 19% volunteer at least monthly. Similarly, in France 36% of those over 65 volunteer in an association according to a report from Bénévolat.
Economically, older people actually play a key role. According to Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), 37.7% of people believe that one of the greatest contributions of grandparents to Spanish society is to help their families ’economically’, while over 25% of people recognize and highlight their role in ’keeping the family together’
For me, it is self-evident that keeping our elderly population in good heart health with innovative medical technology is one clear solution to the challenges we face across Europe. Ensuring that patients have access to these technologies is central to this solution, but unfortunately, access varies widely across Europe. For example, in Denmark, Austria and Switzerland, you are much more likely to be treated with innovative technologies than in my own country.
This is why a European alliance of heart patient organisations have called for action from European healthcare systems to ensure that patients have equal access to effective heart valve disease treatment wherever they live. Achieving this will allow us all to embrace the benefits of the Power of Positive Ageing.