Objective: To determine how people in a moderately sized Ontario city believe they will react if they witness someone colapsing.
Design: Telephone survey.
Setting: The cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, part of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario, with a combined population of 378,000.
Participants: Households were randomly contacted and a questionnaire was administered, provided the respondent was over 44 years of age and agreed to be interviewed. Of 2479 households with eligible respondents, 811 (33%) completed the questionnaire.
Outcomes: Age, sex, educational level, cardiac risk factors and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training of respondents were determined, as well as actions they would take if cardiac arrest occurred in a family member at home or in stranger in the street, and associated emotions and barriers to implementing actions.
Results: Among the first three actions that respondents who were not prompted with possible responses said they would take, 311 (72%) witnessing a collapse at home, compared with 166 (44%) witnessing a collapse on the street, would call 911, the police or an ambulance. Other 'first three actions' in home collapse were checking for breathing (120 [28%]), checking for pulse (91 [21%]) and administering CPR (34 [8%]); these actions were less commonly selected in response to a strangers collapse and when respondents were not prompted. Respondents felt they would be more likely to perform CPR on a friend than on a stranger (OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.58). When asked how likely they would be to perform specific acts when witnessing a collapse, 254 (69%) of respondents thought they would call their family doctor and 179 (48%) thought they were likely to begin chest compressions. Barriers to performing CPR centred around legalities and disease transmission.
Conclusion: Older people do not know how to act effectively in a cardiac emergency. Traditional CPR and public awareness programs have been ineffective in reaching this population; alternative means are required to help the public respond more effectively to cardiac emergencies.