Text messages as heart attack prevention tool being tested with help from 45 and Up Study

Australian researchers are recruiting 45 and Up Study participants to investigate whether text messages about a heart-healthy lifestyle can prevent future heart attacks, stroke and heart disease.

The 45 and Up Mobile Health Study is run by researchers from the University of Sydney, including Professor Clara Chow, Associate Professor Sarah Zaman, Anushriya Pant and Simone Marschner. It will measure the effect of text messages that contain personalised and supportive health advice.

Researchers hope to recruit 1000 participants who have heart disease, or are at risk of developing it, to take part in the study later this year, with text messages sent regularly to half the participants over a three-month period.

Participants’ behaviour such as exercise, smoking status, alcohol consumption and diet – which are all modifiable risk factors for heart disease – will be measured through surveys at the start and end of the three months. Any major health events experienced by participants for one year after the text messages end will be recorded using approved data from hospitals, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

It’s a terrific opportunity to test texting interventions in an older population, says Anushriya Pant. “Previous research has shown that text messages can increase a person’s healthy behaviour, but there hasn’t been much focus on older populations or people from diverse backgrounds,” Pant says. “That’s what makes the 45 and Up Study so valuable for our research – it’s like testing on a national cohort.”

More than 1.2 million Australians have a condition related to heart, stroke or vascular disease. These illnesses predominantly impact older Australians, with 80% of all hospitalisations related to cardiovascular disease (CVD) occurring in people over 55.

The research is using the power of algorithms to deliver effective health messages. “Participants initially will be asked questions about their lifestyle, like whether they are vegetarian, if they smoke, how often they exercise or if they have diabetes,” Pant says.  “That information is then used to select the most suitable text messages.”

This technology, known as TextCare, was co-developed by Professor Chow, a cardiologist at Westmead Hospital and Academic Director of the Westmead Applied Research Centre. Earlier research from Professor Chow showed that heart attack survivors receiving health advice via text message were twice as likely to exercise and 33% more likely to quit smoking compared to those not receiving messages.

 “Hopefully this intervention can teach people about a heart-healthy lifestyle”, Pant says. “Our research findings may help with the implementation of text programs in the wide community and clinical practices, where there’s potential for great impact.”