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More Canadians surviving stroke, but living with long-term disability: report

Over the next 20 years, the number of Canadians living with the long-term repercussions from stroke is slated to increase by 80 per cent, according to a new study published Thursday. It’s pointing to an aging and growing population as the reasons behind this steady climb. Getty Images/File

It was just like any other morning for Ron Smith: he woke up, made breakfast and watched his wife get ready to meet her friends.

But he didn’t feel right – he felt weak and uneasy. “Unlike I’ve ever felt before,” Smith told Global News.

He decided to sleep it off. When he woke up, his sluggishness returned, though. That’s when he turned to Google and typed in “stroke.”

Tests urged him to put his arms above his head, make up a sentence and repeat the phrase, and, finally look in the mirror to look for signs of sagging in his face. He passed all three assessments. In hindsight, he says he should have paid attention to how slowly he was typing.

Smith describes his hands at the time as “lobster claws,” moving in slow motion. Ultimately, his wife forced him to go to the emergency room where doctors suggested he may be dealing with a series of mini-strokes.

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Twenty minutes later in the ER waiting room, he suffered a second, massive stroke. Experts told him he’d be wheelchair-ridden and without feeling in half of his body for the rest of his life.

“I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t move. That was horrifying,” Smith said.

READ MORE: Some Canadians misunderstanding stroke recovery process, report suggests

Smith is shedding light on his story to raise awareness about the uphill climb survivors face as they pick up the pieces from the fallout of their stroke. He’s spent the last 2.5 years regaining his ability to walk – with the help of a cane – and improving the mobility in his face and limbs.

Over the next 20 years, the number of Canadians living with the long-term repercussions from stroke is slated to increase by 80 per cent, according to a new study published Thursday. It’s pointing to an aging and growing population as the reasons behind this steady climb.

In 2013, at least 405,000 Canadians were living with long-term stroke disability, according to the report compiled for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Ontario Stroke Network.

The findings provide an in-depth look at the scope of long-term stroke disability. The organizations say that previous estimates were out of date and incomplete, making it difficult for health officials to plan for adequate care.

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READ MORE: Majority of Canadians can’t identify stroke risk factors

It’s warning that the number of survivors with long-term disabilities is slated to rise to between 654,000 and 726,000 by 2038.

“These findings highlight the critical need for research to find and test innovative solutions to improve recovery for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians living with stroke disability,” Dr. Dale Corbett, a scientific director at the HSF’s Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, said.

“The good news is that we are creating more survivors, thanks to tremendous progress in care. But we need to do even more to keep up with the growing threat of stroke including raising awareness of the signs of stroke and improving prevention and care,” David Sculthorpe, the foundation’s CEO, said.

The numbers are far-reaching, too. The largest projected increase is in the Prairie provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – where there will be as many as 132,000 people living with stroke disability by 2038.

READ MORE: Pay attention to stroke warning signs, Heart and Stroke Foundation says

The report says that 83 per cent of Canadians survive a stroke. They typically end up with mild to severe disability while recovery can take months or years.

Five years in, 36 per cent of stroke survivors still grapple with disabilities and 40 per cent need help with day-to-day living, such as bathing and getting dressed.

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Smith says his experience was a shock. He went from being healthy and able-bodied to bedridden and relearning how to talk, walk, eat – very basic, fundamental activities we take for granted in our daily lives.

READ MORE: Canadians living longer, but managing heart health needs improvement

“Probably one of the greatest challenges to a stroke survivor who has been disabled is re-learning. After a stroke there are familiar things you don’t recognize and activities you no longer remember how to do,” Smith said.

“In a sense you become an infant again who needs the help and patience of all those people who form your care-giving team. This will also help the survivor feel she or he belongs in the larger community,” he explained.

READ MORE: Canadian study could lead to better detection, treatment of stroke risk worldwide

The study was published Thursday afternoon in the journal Stroke. Read the full findings here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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