MONDAY, Dec. 21 , 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Cardiac rehabilitation sessions for elderly people with heart disease can lower their risk of heart attack and help them live longer, new research finds, but fewer than one in five eligible patients bothers to go.
Researchers looked at medical records of more than 30,000 Medicare patients aged 65 and older who attended at least one cardiac rehabilitation session from 2000 to 2005. The findings: More sessions are better.
"We were not surprised that patients who attended more rehabilitation had better outcomes," sstudy author Bradley G. Hammill said in a statement. "We need to encourage physicians to recommend cardiac rehabilitation to eligible patients, and we need to encourage those patients to attend and stay with it."
But while Medicare will pay for 36 cardiac rehabilitation sessions, about half of those in the study only attended 24 or fewer, said Hammill, senior biostatistician at the Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics at Duke Clinical Research Institute, in Durham, N.C.
Those who attended all 36 sessions had a 12 percent lower risk of heart attack and 14 percent lower risk of death than those who went to 24. The gap was even greater when compared to those who attended 12 sessions or only one.
The rehab programs emphasize education about heart disease, exercise, stress, nutrition and medication use, among other things.
"Unfortunately, use of cardiac rehab is very low," Hammill said. "Under 20 percent of those eligible ever go, and women and minorities go less often than white men. We need to promote cardiac rehab for everyone."
The findings were published in the Dec. 22 issue of Circulation.
Learn more about cardiac rehab from the American Heart Association.