2011-07-01 / Health

Peer to peer support for stroke survivors offers hope and healing

Three times a month, a close-knit group of stroke survivors meet to offer its members practical advice, hope, empathy and friendship. On the first three Wednesdays of the month, the group gathers from 2-4 pm at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Tinton Falls and on the third Tuesday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Toms River.They also offer a Second Chance Stroke Program for former stroke patients and their caregivers to provide follow up care if necessary.All stroke survivors are welcome to join the group at any time.

Shirley Maguire, who coordinates the Tinton Falls Stroke Support Group, commented on how peer-topeer groups provide a strong support system to recent stroke patients.They receive instant feedback, advice on practical issues related to coping with a stroke and emotional support. “They have walked in their shoes and can provide a valuable insight and dimension to stroke survivors and their family members,” she remarked.

The support group also provides personal contact, education and a connection to others who find themselves in similar life situations. Participants learn how to cope with their disability and to set realistic long- and short-term goals for themselves. Family caregivers and stroke survivors communicate with each other and learn practical ways of adjusting to their new lifestyle.They are able to share their stories and to help each other.

The group of stroke survivors ranges in age from young people in their 30s to age 88.They all contribute valuable life lessons that can pave the way for new members. Close friendships have formed and they enjoy a variety of social activities together.They go to the beach together for picnics, have dinners and attend sporting events. Some have gone on a cruise to Alaska as a group and shared wonderful experiences and memories.

Sharon Collins, L.C.S.W., a clinical social worker at HealthSouth in Tinton Falls, remarked that the stroke survivors “inspire us with the milestones that they achieve with the support of each other.”

The key components of the holistic program include the emotional, social and educational aspects of coping with a stroke.

Family support is also crucial to a stroke survivor’s progress. From the start of hospitalization, the family and/or care partner are closely involved in the patient’s progress and educational orientation.They receive one-to-one counseling from nurses, therapists and social workers and learn how to use the adaptive med-

ical equipment for the stroke survivor.

The goal of rehabilitation is to get the patient home with the tools to make a good recovery.According to Joseph Morales, P.T. and program manager for the Stroke and Brain Injury Program atTinton Falls, the average length of stay for a stroke patient at either hospital is approximately three weeks. During that time, the patient and family members are educated and receive support for related issues including

emotional problems and financial concerns.

They are also educated about the risk factors that affect stroke patients including lifestyle, smoking, high blood pressure, stress, obesity, diabetes and family history. Stroke is not limited to elderly people, with many patients who suffer a stroke in their 20s and 30s.These support groups provide hope and a new beginning to appreciate the “new normal” of their lives. Their life’s journey is continuing in a

new direction with the support of their close family and new circle of friendship that began at HealthSouth.

HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospitals of New Jersey, located in Tinton Falls andToms River, are accredited by the Joint Commission and hold disease specific accreditation for brain injury, cardiac, diabetes mellitus (Toms River only) pulmonary (Tinton Falls only) and stroke rehabilitation. Health- South Rehabilitation Hospitals provide a higher level of rehabilitative care to

patients who are recovering from stroke and other neurological disorders, brain and spinal cord injury, amputations, orthopedic, cardiac and pulmonary conditions.

For more information on stroke rehabilitation and prevention or the variety of programs and services offered at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Tinton Falls and Toms River, visit www.rehabnj.com or call 732-460- 5320 inTinton Falls or 732-244-3100.

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