April 11, 2016, by Hannele Kivinen, Caregiver Exchange
“Because it’s impossible to prepare for a stroke, it can be very difficult for people to adjust,” says Kathleen Pratt, Registered Social Worker and Coordinator for VON’s Stroke Services Program in Kingston, Ontario. “Caregivers in particular are thrust into a new role with no experience and no training.”
Pratt advises caregivers to equip themselves with accurate information about the effects of stroke, why it occurs, risk factors, and other issues that may affect a person’s recovery.
Stroke Services Kingston offers a program called Living with Stroke™, which is a six-week long series of educational workshops designed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Living with Stroke is available across Canada, and caregivers are encouraged to attend with the stroke survivor.
“The focus of Living with Stroke is to educate people about different aspects of stroke recovery, covering a different subject every week,” explains Pratt. “The series is also psycho-educational because we spend a lot of time discussing how each person is impacted by the topic, emotionally, mentally, or physically.” Each week, participants have the opportunity to set a goal related to the topic, which has led to some positive lifestyle changes for stroke survivors and their caregiver.
Pratt also recommends that caregivers surround themselves with a support network. At the core of Stroke Services Kingston is a number of different support groups, including a family support group and a couples support group.
“Stroke happens to a family, not just an individual,” notes Pratt. “It really helps to be around people who are going through a similar situation, to share experience and advice.” The couples support group focuses more intensively on the impact of stroke on the relationship between a stroke survivor and his or her partner. “A stroke can change someone in a very fundamental way, which may mean that your spouse is no longer the same person you married,” says Pratt. “There’s a lot of losses to grieve, and other people in this support group will understand what you are going through.”
Stroke Services Kingston provides a peer visiting program as well, which trains stroke survivors to visit with other survivors who have been recently affected by stroke. Explains Pratt, “Caregivers who are too busy to commit to a group can be connected with another experienced caregiver, so they can still benefit from some one-on-one time with someone who understands first-hand what they’re going through.”
For Pratt, the best thing is seeing people taking advantage of the services that they discover through various programs: “Caregivers learn about things like Adult Day programs and respite care, so they know where to go when they need some time for themselves – and that can make a huge difference.”
The Living with Stroke program, support groups, and peer visiting program are all free of cost and available in different locations in Ontario. Please visit thehealthline.ca for more information. A listing of Living with Stroke programs can also be found here.