Stroke is one of the scariest words in the English language.
The event it signifies — a sudden interruption of blood flow to part of the brain — is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Many of the millions who survive a stroke find their lives turned upside down. Forty percent experience impairments that require special care and 10 percent require long-term care. Six months after a stroke, patients typically complete rehabilitative services and are no longer eligible for services or are out of the health care system entirely.
“It doesn’t mean that stroke patients no longer need therapy,” said Barbara Doucet, assistant professor of occupational therapy in the School of Health Professions at UTMB. “It means that, for one reason or another, they no longer have access to it.” Barriers may include lack of adequate insurance or financial resources and transportation, since many stroke victims can’t drive.
Jill Seale, assistant professor of physical therapy, said, “Stroke is not a one-time event. You have lifelong disability, lifelong impairment complicated by aging. Aging changes everything.”
About 75 percent of strokes occur in those 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aging itself results in loss of lean muscle mass and muscle function. Recovery may be further complicated by such age-related conditions as osteoporosis and diabetes.
Funded by a grant from the UTMB President’s Cabinet, Doucet and Seale have organized a series of free, weeklong therapy sessions held in the School of Health Professions/School of Nursing building. Under the supervision of faculty, second-year physical and occupational therapy students work with stroke victims to help them improve their lives. Physical therapy focuses on movement and mobility while occupational therapy focuses on restoring function lost to the stroke.
One of the clinic participants, Amy Douglas of Jamaica Beach, suffered a stroke in March 2009.
“She had a massive hemorrhage in her brain. She has no feeling on any of her left side,” said Bill Douglas, her husband. The couple has attended all three previous sessions of the post-stroke clinic.
“Since she has attended these clinics, she is able to use a walker,” Douglas said. “These students are genuinely interested in helping and are capable young men and women. They’re supervised but they’ve taught my wife to do different exercises to help her with her balance and to help her, for instance, to get off the floor should she fall. They taught her how to roll over and get on her knees.”
As much as stroke victims benefit from participating in the clinic, the students who provide the therapy view it as “a great opportunity to work with members of our community and impact them in a very positive way,” said occupational therapy student Whitney “Megan” Mullins. Approximately two dozen students participate during the weeklong sessions.
“I really learned how to apply my classroom knowledge to the clinic setting when working with a client and realized that our program has prepared us well for working with stroke patients,” Mullins said. “I also have learned that there are many people in the community who are six months post-stroke or not eligible for traditional therapy and could still benefit from additional services.”
As grateful as the students are for the opportunity to work with patients, Douglas said, “They thank us for coming but we are the ones who really benefit.”
Therapy is tailored to participants’ goals and needs.
“Sometimes they say, ‘I want to learn to get up and down from the floor because I fall and I can’t do that,’” Seale said. In some cases, patients have been referred for additional outpatient therapy services if there’s been a change in status since the stroke.
Doucet notes, “They may be three years post-stroke but if they start to fall often and they’re not doing the functional tasks that they did before, that warrants a new prescription. A doctor can say, ‘With a change in status, this person needs another regimen of therapy.’ We can pick up on that.”
Clinics are scheduled from 1-4 p.m., Sept. 20-24 and Nov. 15-19.
Participation in the clinic is first-come, first-served with a limit of 10 patients. For information or to reserve a space in the upcoming clinic, call 409-772-3060 or e-mail Jennifer Hyde at firstname.lastname@example.org or Barbara Doucet at email@example.com.