For those affected by stroke and traumatic brain injury, the lives they knew changed in an instant. Recovery, on the other hand, takes time. That’s where a support group in Bemidji, Minnesota comes in.
The group, which was started in 2019, looks to provide education, exercise, advice and well-being to survivors, as well as their family members and caregivers.
“They get to share time with people that are experiencing some of the same troubles, the same problems, and (to know) they’re not alone,” said Amy Buckanaga, clinical nurse specialist/stroke at Sanford Health in Bemidji. “Even the caregivers, you know, people think, ‘Oh, it’s only one person getting sick,’ but it’s really the whole family that has to deal with the change after the stroke, or after any kind of brain injury.”
A nationwide problem
Emily Lien had a stroke six years ago, when she was just 38 years old. Lien was asked to speak to the support group, in part because she was a nurse at Sanford before her stroke, and had spent time caring for stroke victims herself.
“It’s a very isolating thing,” said Lien. “I had so much to relearn. I mean I was learning how to walk, talk. (The group) wasn’t on my radar right away. It was later on when I saw that my life was not going to be the same.”
The group offers a chance to talk with other survivors and caregivers, and new ideas come up often. For instance, yoga was introduced to the group to help with exercise and stress relief.
“If you have leftover symptoms, stress can bring those on and make those worse,” said Lien. “So you do yoga, let’s say, or decrease stress in your life overall, (then) your symptoms might not be as exaggerated as they were.”
“We want to prevent strokes from happening again,” said Buckanaga. “So making sure that their blood pressure is taken care of and that they’re taking all their medications correctly. In terms of physical therapy, petting an animal or throwing a ball, they’re all things that, that give you some emotional relief too. We’ve done some nutritional therapy. (Yoga) helps with balance, or for memory we’ve done word games, stuff like that.”
Risk factors for stroke
The group also wants to help others avoid having a stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds. Signs of stroke can be remembered using the “BE FAST” acronym.
- Balance: are you suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?
- Eyes: are you experiencing sudden blurry vision or a loss of vision in either ey?
- Face: is one side of the face dropping or numb?
- Arms: is one arm weak or numb, or does one arm drift downward if you try to hold it up?
- Speech: is your speech slurred, or are you unable to speak or be understood?
- Time: call 911 as soon as possible if any of the symptoms above occur
Buckanaga says that stroke can be prevented though, just like heart disease.
“You can’t change your family history, but if you’re a diabetic, you can have your blood sugar under control,” Buckanaga said. “If you have high blood pressure, you can control your blood pressure. If your cholesterol is high, you can work to control your cholesterol. Those are things you have control of that all have an effect on your risk factors for stroke. All of those same things for your heart that you can actually change, pretty much all fit in with stroke too.”
For those survivors who are new to the support group’s meetings, or are in the early stages of their recovery and treatment, Buckanaga and Lien both say the most important thing to do is to be forgiving of yourself and to take your time.
“The biggest tip is to have patience, because they’re going to be very frustrated. In some cases (they won’t) be able to do everything that they could do before,” said Buckanaga.
“If someone were to come and talk to you, they’ve already been through it and they can say, ‘Hey, look at how far I’ve come,’” said Lien. “I kind of wish more of those people would have come out of the woodwork and talked to me because there were definitely times where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I ever going to get better?’ (But) you do get better. I think having the group for that can help.”
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