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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9542


Mr RIPOLL (7:05 PM) —I also want to commend the member for Shortland for moving tonight her motion about strokes and helping to create added awareness in the federal parliament about this issue. I want to make a small contribution to help create that awareness across my electorate and right across Australia, because I think this is one of those important areas of health awareness that not enough people understand, and we ought to do everything we can to make sure that people know the symptoms, know the causes and know the impact and effects of a stroke. To illustrate the impact that a stroke has on people, I want to invite the members present in the chamber and the people that might be listening to imagine what it would be like if you awoke one morning to find one side of your body was permanently paralysed, or to find that you were perfectly able to understand words but were unable to speak or to write or to find that you were having to relearn how to perform the simplest activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing or bathing, things that come naturally to the rest of us. Your life and the lives of your family and friends would need to be completely rearranged. That is a very difficult time for people who have a stroke. It is a very difficult time for their friends and families as well. These are just some of the life-altering ways that a stroke can have an impact on people’s lives.

You have already heard tonight, from the member for Shortland and others, some pretty alarming statistics about stroke sufferers in Australia, so I want to talk mainly about the topic of prevention. To give a background setting, there are a range of signs of stroke which may include one or more of the following things. People may experience numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, or of an arm or a leg on one or both sides of the body. They may find they are having difficulty in speaking or understanding what somebody is saying to them. They may find themselves dizzy, or experiencing a loss of balance or having an unexplained fall. They may have some loss of vision or suddenly blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes. They may have a headache, an unusually severe one, or the abrupt onset of a headache. They may have some unexplained change in a headache pattern, with one that might persist, or have difficulty in swallowing. This is not an exhaustive list. These are just some of the things that may happen to people. Having lost a close friend of mine to a stroke only about five years ago, I have a sense of just how quickly it can happen to someone, someone who is not necessarily an older person. In fact, as we have heard, most strokes happen to people who are under 55 years of age. They can even happen to really young people in their 20s or younger. Strokes are very debilitating. They can also lead to death. People might not recover at all from their stroke, particularly within 48 hours of having it.

It would be a safe assumption to make that many Australians just do not realise the extent of a stroke or what it can do. That is why I think awareness campaigns such as the FAST campaign are essential. They really do help people to better understand what is happening either to themselves or to somebody close to them, being a friend or a family member. Not only is stroke Australia’s second biggest killer; the number of strokes will increase each year as Australia’s population ages unless we can reduce the incidence rate. FAST is a simple way of remembering the signs of stroke and what to do if you experience them or if you see the signs in another person. FAST stands for Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to act fast. Calling 000 immediately could prevent death or severe disability. This brings me to another aspect of stroke: not only can it be prevented but if you act quickly enough you can minimise the impact of a stroke on someone by getting them to hospital in time. I have been active in the FAST campaign. I have promoted widely the need for people to carry FAST wallet cards to assist them in recognising the symptoms. They are still available from my office and I know they are available from other members’ offices as well. I know everyone in this parliament is committed to trying to help reduce the incidence of stroke.

In the short time that I have I also want to make mention of the things that we can all do to try and help prevent a stroke. There are obviously easy things such as not smoking or giving up smoking, losing weight if you are overweight, limiting your alcohol intake—a moderate amount of alcohol can lower your risk of stroke, but more alcohol is harmful to your health—keeping your blood pressure low with a low-salt diet and undertaking physical activity. If required, medical attention is also necessary. You can also live by the motto, ‘The lower your cholesterol, the lower your risk of stroke.’ The two are intimately linked. You can control cholesterol with a combination of diet, exercise and, of course, medication. Being physically active is also very important, so we should try to do some moderate exercise every day. There is a lot that people can do. We all have to be aware of the symptoms and we have to try and help our friends and family, not only beforehand but also afterwards if something does happen.