The Cognitive-Language group – a unique group at Holy Family Hospital
Submitted by Jenica Montgomery, communications coordinator Communications & Public Affairs
For some, the signs of a stroke aren’t as obvious as a drooping face, the inability to speak, move your arm or walk. It could be knowing your life has changed in other significant ways which are not obvious to others.
The effects of a stroke can be terrifying and life changing – suddenly things you could do, you no longer can: speaking effectively and confidently, vision changes, difficulty processing information being able to drive, etc. It can be isolating and lonely.
But for the stroke support group run out of Holy Family Hospital, they know that they’re not alone in what they’re going through.
“After you have a stroke, you’re a little bit different,” said Wayne Eklof, member of the stroke support group. “And with this group, you learn to support each other in a different way.”
Jeanne Harborne, occupational therapist at Holy Family Hospital, and Vera Kinach, speech-language pathologist at Holy Family Hospital, noticed that they had patients who no longer needed weekly 1:1 treatment, but who still required some form of support beyond conventional therapy. There was a gap in their road to recovery and these individuals were falling through.
“It’s a unique group because they all talk and walk well. They look fine. They don’t get much support once discharged from the hospital,” said Vera. “And there is nowhere else in Greater Vancouver that I know o where this group’s needs are addressed at this level.”
Recovery from stroke does not stop once you are discharged from therapy. It’s a long process where you need to find you “new normal.” And the best way to get there is to learn from others who are on a similar journey.
Jeanne and Vera decided then to start this group for those individuals. The goals include:
- education about stroke for those high level cognitive and language difficulties.
- to learn about resources in the community such as volunteer work, new research and treatment methods, various wellness options, etc.
- discussing changes and compensatory strategies in a safe and accepting environment.
Now, twice a month, the group gathers in a meeting room at Holy Family Hospital with coffee in hand. They have come to know one another and they know each other’s stroke stories. They update each other on their lives, where they’re at now and new information they’ve found and want to share. There may be a theme to the weekly sessions such as resilience, memory issues, processing information in a noisy environment or perhaps the best medical travel coverage.
Having both the Speech-Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapist present has been invaluable as the topics cover a wide range which cannot be fielded solely by one professional. On occasion, the expertise of other disciplines have been invited to attend, such as Social Work, Nutrition or Physiotherapy. Speech-Language pathology and physiotherapy students have also attended this group and have benefitted from the information and insights that the group members have shared.
The group has been around since 2011. People may come and go, but there are a few long-standing members who provide valuable support for the new comers. What stays consistent is the heart of the group. It’s more than just a bimonthly get together – the group provides well-being, support and learning to each other. Currently there are about a dozen “regulars.” People tend to miss a meeting only if they are ill or away on vacation.
This group is meeting a need.
“It’s hard to explain the value of this group, but it’s huge,” said support group member Ray Hunter. Another group member said “This group has probably helped me avoid antidepressant medication. It’s such a great thing to know I can find the level of support I need here.”
In addition to the Stroke Support Group, a spousal support group was created by social worker Ele Cavallin. For the members, this group means confidentiality, safety and understanding.
“I can’t express these feelings about how my life has changed to anyone else,” said one group member.
Caregivers need support from peers going through the same thing they are, and this group provides them that much needed outlet. When you become a caregiver, so much of your life revolves around your loved one – and that comes with its own set of challenges.
“Being a caregiver to someone who has had a stroke is very isolating because it’s changed all our relationships with all the people that we knew and all our previous relationships,” said another group member.
At Providence we pride ourselves on our patient and family centred approach to care – and at Holy Family Hospital it means going the extra mile to ensure people continue to receive the support they need and creating an outlet so care givers receive support as well.
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