Do stroke awareness campaigns really work? Yes, per authors Bray et al in their recent article regarding public awareness of stroke symptoms in Australia following national multimedia campaigns. From 2004 to 2010, a total of 12,439 surveys were conducted with Australians 40 years and older approximately six weeks after the annual National Stroke Foundation (NSF) multimedia stroke warning signs campaigns across Australia. Per authors, the proportion of those surveyed to recall two or more of the most common stroke warning signs rose from 43% to 63% during this time, and there was a subsequent decrease in respondents that didn’t know any stroke warning signs (16% to 11%) and of those that gave incorrect responses (45% to 33%). 

The nature of the ad campaigns changed over the course of this study, with a shift to focusing on the FAST (face, arm, speech) symptoms in 2006, as well as with “annual modifications” each year to improve the key message. Authors also note that paid and pro-bono support for the campaign increased considerably after 2005, which correlated with a subsequent increase in the percent of those polled that had awareness of the campaign. Interestingly, there was no difference of awareness of stroke symptoms was noted in patients with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and previous stroke during the course of the survey–only those patients with atrial fibrillation appeared to have a statistically significant increased awareness of stroke symptoms during this period. 

While the study showed an increase a net increase in stroke symptom awareness in Australia over the 6 years surveyed, it is clear that the message isn’t getting though to high-risk groups. It begs pertinent questions and foci for further research: what are the most effective ways to target those most likely to have a stroke? What methods of multimedia distribution work best?  How can the message best be sustained?

#FAST in Australia, we need to do more