Leading heart health organizations are urging schools and parents to teach young children life-saving skills such as how to call 911 and how to administer CPR.
On Wednesday, the American Heart Association, the European Resuscitation Council and the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation published a scientific statement in the journal Circulation that details evidence showing schoolchildren as young as 4 know how to call for help in a medical emergency and that, by age 10 to 12, children can administer effective chest compressions when performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR.
“Although young children do not have the strength to perform correct chest compressions, they can learn the basic information about what to do if someone suddenly collapses,” Dr. Comilla Sasson, a member of the statement writing committee, a practicing emergency medicine physician in Colorado and vice president for health science at the American Heart Association, said in an email.
For instance, children as young as 4 can learn what 911 is and how to call it, as well as knowing their address so a dispatcher can send emergency medical services to their home.
Sasson said her own 6-year-old and 8-year-old learned very quickly how to call 911, what chest compressions are and even what an AED, or automated external defibrillator, is and how it’s used to help people who are in cardiac arrest.
About 70% to 90% of people who go into cardiac arrest outside of the hospital die before reaching a hospital because the people around them don’t always know how to help, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that one of the biggest barriers to increasing cardiac arrest survival has been, and continues to be, not recognizing that someone has had a cardiac arrest, activating 9-1-1 early, starting CPR and getting an AED as soon as possible,” Sasson said.
As part of educating children about life-saving skills, “teach young children how to assess for consciousness and normal breathing,” the scientific statement says.
Various medical groups have long stressed the importance of teaching young children what to do during medical emergencies in the home, at school or in other settings. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement advocating for training of children, parents, caregivers, school personnel and the public on basic life-saving skills as well as the appropriate use of AEDs.
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Sasson said the American Heart Association has played a role in getting more than 40 states to require some type of education about cardiac arrest and CPR as a graduation prerequisite for high school students.
“But, we know that the more often someone is exposed to this information, using high frequency, spaced learning approaches, the more likely they will be to act in an emergency. The AHA believes that no one is too young or too old to learn about CPR, AEDs, and what cardiac arrest,” Sasson said. “We believe that this statement can help us outline for students, parents, teachers, staff and leadership, just how important kids are in saving lives.”