Stroke in young Canadians is on the rise, Heart & Stroke warns. Here’s why

Click to play video: '‘Stroke can happen to anyone’: Family shares cautionary tale of 15-year-old son'
‘Stroke can happen to anyone’: Family shares cautionary tale of 15-year-old son
Fifteen-year-old Sam Vaught from Sioux City, Iowa suffered a stroke. Vaught's family says the medical emergency has been "life changing." Their sharing his story as a cautionary tale: a stroke can happen at any age – May 15, 2016

More young Canadians are having strokes, according to a new Heart & Stroke report that’s warning that stroke rates in younger adults are rising faster than seniors.

Stroke rates have crept up 11 per cent in Canadians between 20 and 59 from 2006 to 2015. The increase is tied to a rise in risk factors for stroke: access to more processed foods, a fast-paced, stressful life, sedentary lifestyle and higher rates of diabetes and obesity in young adults.

The trouble is, Canadians don’t think of stroke when it comes to young adults.

“There’s a serious lack of awareness of stroke in anybody younger than 70. The public perception has always been seeing a stroke in someone older but that’s changing and it’s starting to happen younger. It even happens in babies and people don’t understand that,” Dr. Patrice Lindsay, director of stroke at Heart & Stroke, told Global News. She’s also the report’s co-author.

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(Yet, there are more than 6,300 babies born with stroke and more than 10,000 children up to 18-years-old are living as stroke survivors. A new stroke happens in about one in 10,000 young adults.

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

“That misconception leads to challenges not just in the health-care system, but with community support available to patients, family and parents. It causes challenges if people can’t get rehabilitation that’s age-appropriate to those who are going back to work or raising families. That’s one of the biggest findings — we aren’t prepared for these people,” Lindsay said.

The latest Heart & Stroke report published Wednesday morning is reminding Canadians that stroke recovery is an uphill climb, a years-long process.

Half of stroke survivors still need help with daily activities, such as eating, bathing, dressing, using the washroom and getting around. They grapple with “hidden” issues from memory loss to depression and fatigue.

READ MORE: ‘Stroke in young people is on the rise’: Family shares cautionary tale of 15-year-old son

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Lindsay has invaluable insight into the plight of stroke survivors. She was 38 when she suffered from a stroke while reading a bedtime story to her kids, 2 and 5.

“I was feeling unwell and within a couple of minutes, I lost feeling of my entire left side of my body. I couldn’t move my arm or leg. Luckily my husband heard me bang my other leg on the floor and called 911,” she recounted.

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The ambulance arrived within minutes and she was rushed to a hospital that treats stroke emergencies.

Lindsay suffered from a minor stroke. It took six months until she reached a full recovery but she couldn’t drive at first and had to rely on friends and family.

READ MORE: Heart attacks on the rise in younger Canadians, experts say

Lindsay said it’s key to call 911 so paramedics can administer treatment immediately and take you to a hospital equipped for stroke emergencies.

Every minute, 1.9-million brain cells die. Restoring normal blood flow sooner rather than later makes a significant difference – that’s why getting to hospital faster increases your chances of survival and recovery with little or no disability.

There are 62,000 strokes recorded in Canada each year – 80 per cent of people survive.

Only 16 per cent of stroke patients who leave hospital get into rehabilitation right away.

Andrew Genge is 28 and has been training across North America to represent Canada in snowboarding at the upcoming Paralympics in South Korea.

He’s been an athlete all his life, but it’s hard to believe that at only 15-years-old, he encountered a massive stroke that changed his life.

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READ MORE: Here’s how women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s

While playing rugby, Genge got into an accident with another player.

“It went horribly wrong. His hip bone ended up on my face, crushing my whole face and fracturing my jaw bone,” Genge said.

He sheared his carotid artery, one of the main arteries supplying the head and neck with blood. Hours later, in hospital, Genge suffered from a major stroke.

“I thought it was the morphine or something that they put me on. I was flying like Superman because of the medication and I felt my right arm drop and thought that’s not good. I tried to get my right arm back but I couldn’t,” Genge said.

His recovery took two years: he needed daily physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy for six months. He’s relearned how to walk, talk, eat and carry out his daily routine.

READ MORE: Male heart attack patients receive faster care than women, Canadian study suggests

“I was a healthy teenager, a very athletic jock. My parents and family members were obviously very shocked by it,” he said.

Lindsay said it’s tricky to diagnose the reason why stroke occurs in younger patients. In her case, she learned she had a family history of stroke and she also had a congenital heart problem.

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But like Genge and Lindsay, younger stroke patients have different needs compared to other patients.

In some cases, they’re the “sandwich generation,” learning how to drive again, returning to work or school, or raising young families while caring for older parents.

Funding for recovery support services for this age group is limited, Lindsay said.

READ MORE: Do heart attack survivors change their unhealthy ways? Study suggests they don’t

Heart & Stroke’s report is hoping to change the way stroke is thought about so that assistance programs will transform, too.

Read the full Heart & Stroke report.

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