06/05/2014 12:00 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:00 EDT

Stroke deaths down but burgeoning older population threatens gains

TORONTO - Canadian experts say deaths from strokes have declined in this country over the past decade because of advances in diagnosing and treating the brain attacks.

But they suggest the aging of the population could soon threaten the gains made by treatment advances and expansion of specialized care programs.

That assessment is part of the 2015 stroke report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

The report, which was written by stroke experts, says that compared to five years ago more Canadian hospitals have been designated as stroke centres, with specialized teams.

As well, more hospitals are administering clot-busting drugs, which, if given within a few hours of a stroke, can reduce the damage to the brain inflicted by a stroke.

Still, it notes that today's stroke patients typically have a combination of illnesses and consequently their care is more complex.

The report also notes that some parts of the country are doing better than others in terms of stroke care. The chances of surviving a stroke in Quebec and Alberta, for instance, are higher, while Atlantic Canadians are at greater risk of dying from a stroke. The death rate for stroke is highest in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Though people typically think of stroke as something that afflicts the elderly, the report suggests that in the past decade strokes among people in their 50s have increased by 24 per cent. Among those in their 60s, the rate has risen by 13 per cent.

There are an estimated 50,000 strokes in Canada every year, or one every 10 minutes. The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates that 315,000 Canadians are living with the effects of a stroke.