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December 31, 2008 > Getting the Most Out of Life After a Stroke

Getting the Most Out of Life After a Stroke

Giving Hope to Stroke Survivors and Their Loved Ones

Doug Van Houten, R.N., coordinator of Washington Hospital's Stroke Program, never tires of teaching community members and patients about stroke. He wants people - stroke survivors, their loved ones and caregivers, as well as community members - to know that strokes can and do improve in many cases.

But it takes a lot of hard work - and optimism, Van Houten says. On Tuesday, Jan. 6, he invites the community to learn more about life after stroke during a free community education seminar that is part of Washington Hospital's ongoing Stroke Education Series.

"I try very hard to get the message across that strokes usually get better to some extent - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot," he explains. "Recovery has a lot to do with the individual, the stroke itself and the rehabilitation process. I want to convey a sense of optimism. Strokes don't get better in a day or two - patients have to work at it. Recovery is such a variable process. Some people get a little better and other people who really work at it can get back to near normal functioning.

"If you can't get back to 100 percent normal after a stroke, you can say: 'This is my life going forward from here and I may have to do things differently, but I'm going to get the most out of life as I can.'"

During his seminar, which will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. on Jan. 6 in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, Van Houten talks about the obstacles stroke survivors and their caregivers face, as well as the tools they can use to overcome them.

Challenges after stroke can include a range of issues, including some type of
physical disability, communication impairment, difficulty with swallowing - which can lead to aspiration pneumonia, as well as social isolation and depression.

Van Houten will spend time outlining some of the general goals for stroke survivors, which include:
* Increasing independence
* Improving cognitive and physical function
* Improving communication
* Maintaining safety
* Preventing another stroke
* Achieving a satisfactory quality of life

"It's all about moving forward," he says. "Stroke survivors have to use their inner strength and creativity and they have to look for support."

One vital means of social support can be a support group like the one Van Houten facilitates for stroke survivors and their caregivers. The group meets the fourth Tuesday of each month from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Room A.

"I will spend some time talking about our stroke support group," he says. "One concept that is particularly important when it comes to stroke is that you're not alone. There are other people that have gone through the same things, and they can be a great resource, serving as mentors for people who have just had a stroke.

"The Stroke Support Group is a great resource. You have to shed the notion that your life is never going to be the same. The group gives stroke survivors the opportunity to get out and interact with people in a positive environment. We sit and listen patiently and listen to each person's contribution."

Van Houten says he also will give concrete examples of how stroke survivors have chosen to find ways to keep enjoying their favorite activities post-stroke - from a man who learned to golf one-handed to another who learned to ski sitting down.
"Stroke survivors face a big injury, and they have two choices," he explains.

"They can either just sit around and say life's not worth living, or they can find other options to get out and live life. I think there's a tendency to be despondent and say 'My life is done,' after a stroke. I'm saying that's exactly what you shouldn't do."

Van Houten uses the example of Tuesdays with Morrie, a bestselling book by Mitch Albom about the life lessons he learned from his former professor, Morrie Schwartz. Schwartz, who was dying of ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, learned to maintain his humor and appreciation of life despite the disease.

Van Houten says the question stroke survivors need to ask themselves is this: Do I wither up and disappear or do I make a promise to myself to still live life to the fullest?

But it's not just stroke survivors' lives that change. It's also the lives of those caring for them, Van Houten points out.

"One other aspect I try to get into is the role of the caregivers and how important they are to stroke survivors," he says. "The caregivers are typically spouses, and this is one of the main reasons that stroke survivors are able to go home, because they have a spouse who can help them. These caregivers are typically not trained and may have health issues of their own, and I talk about the importance of their involvement."

To learn more, join Van Houten and a Washington Hospital Stroke Program physician to learn more about Life After Stroke and Future in Diagnosis & Management on Jan. 6.

What: Stroke Education Series
Topic: Life After Stroke/Future in Diagnosis & Management
When: 6 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 6
Where: Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont
Call: (800) 963-7070 to register

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