In a randomized clinical trial, a Heart Institute group led by Bob Reid, PhD evaluated a program designed to impact the heart health of family members of patients with heart disease. “Family members of patients are in a teachable moment that gives us the opportunity to prevent them from becoming the patients of tomorrow,” said Dr. Reid, Deputy Chief of the Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation.
Family history increases risk for cardiovascular disease by 1.5 to 3 times and the spouses of patients often share their lifestyle risk factors, yet screening of family members is not done consistently and interventions with family members are rarely implemented.
The study evaluated a program of intervention that included risk assessment and feedback, 17 counseling sessions over a 12-month period, standardized scripts for interacting with individual family members to ensure consistency and reports to primary care physicians. Data regarding a variety of health measures, including the primary effectiveness criteria of cholesterol, physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables, was collected at baseline, three months and 12 months.
The results showed that the program had a substantial impact on physical activity levels and fruit and vegetable consumption as well as on body mass index and waist circumference. Interestingly, as counseling sessions tapered off after the first three months, the levels of behaviour change began to decline. The Prevention and Rehabilitation group will implement the program on an ongoing basis at the Heart Institute but plans to actively engage family physicians to help sustain the higher levels of behaviour change seen early in the program.
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