What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of the brain is severely reduced or interrupted, and as result, the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die within minutes of the occurrence of a stroke. This means, the more quickly a patient receives medical attention for a stroke, the more likely that brain damage, as well as complications and secondary symptoms that are often associated with stroke, can be minimized.

Every year, over 50,000 people have a stroke in Canada. A stroke may last less than a minute and one might perceive stroke as a temporary obstacle to overcome – however, a stroke can prompt a wide range of long-term symptoms, and is one of a few conditions that affect an individual physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Strokes have become the leading cause of long-term disability in Canada and United States.

Common physical symptoms of stroke include vision problems, difficulty swallowing, and weakness or mobility issues in parts of the body. Strokes can also cause less well-known and understood symptoms, such as mood swings or depression, and difficulty with language and/or memory.

Strokes and long-term disability

Many Canadians have an incomplete picture of stroke symptoms, because the effects of a stroke – and the recovery process – differ so widely from one patient to another. Strokes are one of the most misunderstood afflictions from the perspective of long-term disability, as they give rise to a variance of symptoms which may be physical or mental and are often difficult to measure.

At Kotak Personal Injury Law, we have found that the discrepancy in symptoms and treatment has been a defining and persistent attribute of strokes, as experienced by our past and existing clients. Treatments like electric stimulation, acupuncture, and virtual reality games represent some of the many unique approaches medical professionals take to stroke rehabilitation. Medication also varies wildly, and may even involve herbal supplements. Unfortunately, the varied approach to stroke treatment is a situation that insurance companies commonly exploit in an attempt to assert that the patient’s medical care was inappropriate, and ‘inappropriate treatment’ is one of the chief grounds insurers now take to deny long-term disability claims stemming from strokes.

An important first step in preparing for a successful long-term disability claim after having a stroke is to be aware of, and document, the changes brought on by your stroke. For example, more than half of all stroke survivors deal with ‘post-stroke fatigue’. This can take the form of depression, trouble sleeping and/or feeling tired despite a good night’s rest. Yet, many stroke survivors may be unaware of these symptoms, and often assume that their emotional changes are merely the result of their physical stroke symptoms.

Similarly, strokes can also prompt subtle cognitive changes which sometimes go unnoticed by patients and medical professionals. The most common of these is a difficulty in expressing oneself (aphasia). This symptom is the result of damage to the part of the brain which processes language, and presents itself in difficulties with oral and written language, as well as problems understanding others; however, this effect is difficult to accurately measure.

Both for the purpose of reporting your symptoms accurately to your doctor and also, to ensure that your long-term disability claim properly reflects how much your symptoms have affected your ability to function, an important step for stroke victims is to maintain a personal journal. This makes it easier to document subtler stroke symptoms as they progress over time, as well as ascertain whether emotional or cognitive experiences are merely the product of feeling under the weather or actually long-term manifestations of stroke symptoms. A journal can be a crucial piece of evidence in a long-term disability case, and carries more weight than a person’s memory of, or testimony about, symptoms that occurred in the past.

Stroke sufferers frequently experience weakness or mobility issues related to their hands. Because we rely on the use of our hands in performing almost every task, restricted hands renders jobs involving physical work, computers, office work, retail sales and most other forms of work almost impossible to carry out effectively. For this reason, symptoms effecting the use of your hands severely limits your ability to return to work. If you are keeping a journal, focus on the changes to your hand strength and movement, and make sure that your doctor takes notes of these changes during your examinations.

A misconception many claimants have is believing that they have to be entirely incapacitated in order to make a long-term disability claim. This belief is often asserted by insurers who may, for example, use surveillance evidence of a claimant performing non-strenuous activities, such as going to a restaurant, in order to portray them as ‘not disabled’. It is important to remember that many long-term disability claimants do not perceive themselves as ‘disabled’. What’s relevant in terms of long-term disability is, if the effects of your stroke limit your ability to work effectively, in terms of preventing you from performing the essential aspects of your work, then you are fully justified in making a disability claim.

More Canadians than ever survive strokes and although stroke symptoms usually abate over time, increasingly more Canadians are subject to long-term disability as a result of strokes. Stroke-related disability claims are particularly complex, because the symptoms of a stroke affect an individual’s body, emotions, and cognition, and also because symptoms vary significantly between patients. Insurance companies often attempt to use this complexity to their advantage, by rejecting a claim on the basis that the stroke sufferer is sufficiently able-bodied to do their job or by subjecting claimants to protracted internal claim-assessments with little chance of success.

If you experienced a stroke and your disability claim was denied or your benefits were terminated before you are well enough to return to work, don’t give up on your claim. At Kotak Personal Injury Law, our legal team consists of experienced disability lawyers who have helped many stroke survivors, like you, who are struggling with symptoms that prevent them from working but were unable to convince the insurance company of the legitimacy of their claim. Call Kotak Law today to discuss your case and find out whether litigation or another option is the optimal strategy for getting the disability benefits you are owed.