Even Preschoolers Can Help Save a Life, Heart Experts Say

THURSDAY, May 18, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- If you're old enough to dial 911, you're old enough to be a lifesaver.

Building lifesaving skills can start as young as age 4 and be expanded over the years, the American Heart Association and others advise in a new scientific statement.

Children can be adept at these actions by middle school if they start learning basic lifesaving skills early, when they’re highly motivated to do so.

A 4-year-old who can identify when to call an emergency telephone number becomes a 10-year-old who may begin to perform effective chest compressions, according to the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR), the American Heart Association and the European Resuscitation Council.

This group of scientists reviewed more than 100 research articles about training students in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The investigators found that school-aged children are not only highly motivated to learn lifesaving skills, but they often pass on what they’ve learned to others, multiplying the benefits.

“Training students has become a key element to increase the number of people ready to perform CPR when cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital, and potentially increase rates of CPR and cardiac arrest survival globally,” said Dr. Bernd Böttiger, chair of the statement writing group. “This research review aims to prompt clinicians, policy makers, local school officials and the general public to take action in a cardiac emergency whenever possible.”

Cardiac arrest — the sudden loss of all heart activity due to an irregular heart rhythm — is a leading cause of death worldwide. Survival rates for cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting range between 2% and 20% globally. The odds of surviving are particularly low if a bystander doesn’t recognize what's happening and immediately react.

“Given that most cardiac arrests outside of a hospital will happen at home, it’s important that all members of the family understand what to do if someone has a cardiac arrest,” committee member Dr. Comilla Sasson, vice president for science and innovation at the American Heart Association, said in an association news release.

“Building skills at a young age that are reinforced consistently throughout their years in school has the potential to educate generations of students and their parents on how to respond to cardiac arrest, perform chest compressions and rescue breaths, use an AED [automated external defibrillator] and ultimately increase survival,” Sasson added.

Children who may be too young to do effective chest compression can learn the steps and rhythms for CPR and start learning about AEDs. By age 10, kids may be able to do effective chest compressions on training manikins.

While schools may teach these skills, families should also have a cardiac emergency response plan in place, practiced regularly.

These can include answering a handful of questions:

  • Who will call 911? Plan to use a cellphone and put it on speaker while talking to the emergency dispatcher and starting CPR.

  • Who will start CPR? If hands-only CPR is started immediately, the person having the cardiac emergency has double or triple the chance of survival.

  • Who will open the door? Unlock the entrance, so first responders can have quick access.

The scientific statement was published May 17 in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on CPR.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, May 17, 2023

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