Did you know that more than 62,000 strokes occur in Canada each year? That number continues to rise, leaving more than 405,000 people in Canada living with the effects of stroke.
The good news is that stroke is treatable. However, there are a lot of myths about this serious medical emergency. Here are five important ones:
Myth 1: Stroke only affects the elderly.
Fact: A stroke can happen at any age. Nearly 25 per cent of Canadians who have had a stroke are under the age of 65.
While age remains the strongest risk factor for stroke, stroke in younger adults is also on the rise and at a faster rate than older adults. Risks like high blood pressure, diabetes and unhealthy lifestyles are also increasing in this younger age group.
How we can help: March of Dimes Canada’s After Stroke program is a personalized recovery program that helps survivors and their families move forward after a stroke. The program is flexible and able to adapt to meet the changing needs and goals of stroke survivors of any age.
Myth 2: Stroke recovery only occurs for the first few months following a stroke.
Fact: There is no timetable for stroke recovery. Many people continue to improve for months or years after a stroke.
That said, Canadian Best Stroke Practices supports starting rehabilitation as soon as possible after a stroke, typically while the stroke survivor is in hospital. A person’s recovery is affected by many factors—like the severity of the stroke for example. No two people have exactly the same recovery.
How we can help: Upon registration, a local After Stroke coordinator works with the stroke survivor to understand the person’s needs and goals for stroke recovery and develop a personalized plan to help reach them. We will provide this support for however long they need it.
Myth 3: A stroke only affects the person who experienced the stroke.
Fact: Often, everyone in the circle of the person who experienced the stroke is impacted. Nearly two-thirds of survivors (in Canada) are left with some level of stroke-related disability, and more than half require some amount of assistance in daily activities during recovery, according to a 2017 report by Heart & Stroke. This can lead to family members acting as full or part time caregivers.
How we can help: Our program places the stroke survivor and their family caregivers at the centre of our care. The stroke survivor is supported while working towards their goals, while caregivers also access tailored resources and programs that support their unique challenges.
Myth 4: Women are less likely to have strokes than men.
Fact: More than 62,000 strokes occur in Canada each year; over 30,200 of these happen to women.
Women are affected differently than men by stroke. According to a 2018 report by Heart & Stroke, “More women die of stroke, have worse outcomes after stroke, are living with the effects of stroke and they face more challenges as they recover.”
How we can help: Our program supports the different needs faced by men and women during recovery. The plan for recovery is flexible and may include programs offered through After Stroke, as well as referrals to other local services and resources.
Myth 5: You can’t do anything to prevent stroke.
Fact: Research has shown that almost 80 per cent of premature stroke and heart disease can be prevented through healthy behaviours.
This is good news for those who have never had a stroke, and for others who are looking to prevent a second stroke. There are risk factors for stroke that you can’t change—like age and medical history—but there are others you can modify that can reduce your risk.
How we can help: For participants in our After Stroke program, we will work to include resources and assistance in making lifestyle changes as part of their plan to help reduce the risk of another stroke. These changes could range from eating a healthier diet to staying active to reducing stress to maintaining a healthy weight.
A look at the DASH diet
Developed in 1997 to reduce blood pressure, DASH has been continuously studied for over 25 years. It emphasizes eating more fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, nuts and legumes. It limits salt, saturated fat, sweets and red or processed meats. The DASH diet specifies the number of servings and serving sizes for each food group.
The DASH eating plan Food Groups:
• Grains (mainly whole grains)
• Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods
• Lean meats, poultry and fish
• Nuts, seeds and dry beans
• Fats and Oils
DASH Daily Servings (except as noted) and examples:
• Vegetables: 4-5 servings
• 250 mL (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables
• 125 mL (½ cup) cooked vegetables
• Fruit: 4-5 servings
• 1 medium piece of fruit
• 63 mL (¼ cup) dried fruit
• 125 mL (½ cup) fresh, frozen or canned fruit
• Grains (mainly whole grains): 7-8 servings
• 1 slice of bread
• 250 mL (1 cup) ready to eat cereal
• 125 mL (½ cup) cooked rice, pasta or cereal
• Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods: 2-3 servings
• 250 mL (1 cup) milk
• 250 mL (1 cup) yogurt
• 50 g (1½ oz) cheese
• Lean meats, poultry and fish: 2 servings or less
• 3 ounces cooked lean meats, skinless poultry, or fish
• Nuts, seeds and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week
• 1/3 cup (1.5 oz.) nuts
• 30 mL (2 tbsp) peanut butter
• 2 tbsp (1/2 oz.) seeds
• 1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas
• Fats and oils: 2-3 servings
• 5 mL (1 tsp) soft margarine
• 15mL (1 tbsp) low-fat mayonnaise
• 30 mL (2 tbsp) light salad dressing
• 5 mL (1 tsp) vegetable oil
Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation.