Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Home defibrillator skills slip away

Heart Beat

Home defibrillator skills slip away

A question we often get from readers is, "Should I buy a home defibrillator?" These shock boxes are the only way to revive someone having a cardiac arrest "" the sudden cessation of heartbeats capable of circulating blood. Since up to three-quarters of cardiac arrests happen at home, having a defibrillator at home should save lives. So far, though, there isn't good evidence that they do.

Italian researchers wondered if having a home defibrillator would make families of heart patients feel less anxious. They gave the machines to 33 heart attack survivors along with training for a family member about what to do in case of a cardiac arrest.

Just having the device didn't ease the family members' anxiety or improve their quality of life. One worrisome finding was that over the course of a year, family members' ability to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) slipped, and they skipped check-ups to make sure the defibrillator was working properly.

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