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In Canada, a stroke occurs every ten minutes. Each year, approximately 50,000 Canadians have a ‘brain attack’ that will lead to death or serious disability. Many people who have strokes face physical and mental challenges that greatly affect their quality of life. As many as 300,000 survivors live with the knowledge they are at risk for a subsequent attack.
While stroke can be devastating for the patient, its impact does not end there. The condition also has an enormous effect on the patient’s family. Most patients will need help to perform basic daily functions, such as dressing and personal hygiene. For the primary caregiver, sudden change in lifestyle and a sense of isolation can cause depression and anxiety. One year after a stroke in their family member, 50 per cent of caregivers develop an emotional illness. As fewer than 50 per cent of people who have strokes return to work, families carry the additional burden of lost income.
In addition to its social effects, stroke hurts the Canadian economy – the cost is estimated at $2.7 billion annually. Direct costs include hospital care, drugs, physician care expenditures and research. But there are many indirect costs as well, such as lost productivity due to mortality and long- or short-term disability. Our efforts to treat stroke have not always been cost-effective, and until now the approach to research and treatment has been fragmented.