WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Because of the 5,201 Forsyth County residents who participated in a long-running study of cardiovascular health factors, researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and colleagues have made major findings that have led to changes in health care policy at the national level.
Participants in the 20-year-old Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) were invited to attend an appreciation event Tuesday, Nov. 13 at the Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center where they received a big “thank you” for their important contributions to medical science.
The CHS is a landmark study of aging and cardiovascular health that started in 1988 and is ongoing. Gregory Burke, M.D., principal investigator and professor and division head of Public Health Sciences, said the study has changed how the medical profession looks at aging.
“When we started, in fact, there was a dearth of information about treating and preventing disease in older adults. There was the thought that if they’ve made it to age 65, then they’re ok and we shouldn’t change anything, but this study has changed the way we think about older adults and their health.”
Stephen Kritchevsky, M.S.P.H., Ph.D., director of the Sticht Center on Aging and a sub-study principal investigator, said, “The study has been critical in understanding risk for cardiovascular disease in older persons, showing how vascular and cognitive functions are connected. Now, it’s also looking at how good vascular health leads to successful aging.”
Such as the successful aging of Elizabeth and Henry Stroupe of Winston-Salem, who participate in the study. They started in their early 70s and are now in their 90s and going strong.
“I did it largely because of my interest in scientific research,” Henry Stroupe said. “We also enjoyed the tests and medical part of it for our benefit. I think the study helped us both to try and stay healthy and do the exercises year after year. It was kind of an inspiration as well as a scientific adventure.”
They continue to participate with annual health exams and share information about their social activities, physical function and ability, diet and medications, and undergo a multitude of tests to provide the needed data.
In the beginning, the CHS involved 5,201 people over 65 years old from Forsyth County, Sacramento County, Calif., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Washington County, Md. The mean age of participants was 75 and the majority of the participants (64 percent) were women. Today, the youngest cohort member is now 84 years of age and the 84+ and older segment of the study population is the fastest growing. The study is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Major findings of the study have been:
• A new and better way to identify which older adults have a high risk of stroke or heart attack: the presence of sub-clinical (hidden and without symptoms) cardiovascular disease.
• The role of markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein in heart disease. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Health Association made a joint statement to health care professionals about how to use the markers to screen patients for heart disease.
• The National Institutes of Health (NIH) acknowledged that health care professionals had not been adequately treating high blood pressure in older adults, and they started campaigns to better identify and treat it.
• Lung function continues to get worse in older adults who continue to smoke.
• Understanding more about “healthy aging” and what constitutes frailty in older adults.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,154 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.