June is Stroke Awareness Month

Did you know that VON has offered stroke support programming in Greater Kingston since 2013? In honour of Stroke Awareness Month and Aphasia Awareness Month in June, Blueprint spoke to Emilia Leslie, Stroke Services program coordinator in Kingston. 

Keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of stroke.

What are some of the biggest challenges faced by people who have experienced a stroke? 
Stoke can cause challenges with movement, communication, thinking, vision, fatigue and emotions. Many stroke survivors lose their independence, for example through loss of driving, loss of speech, loss of work, loss of vision, loss of mobility and financial expenses. Many effects of stroke are invisible, and stroke survivors may also face stigma from a lack of awareness or knowledge about stroke.

Stroke recovery can be lifelong, and survivors can find it difficult to access ongoing support. Community stroke support services like ours are imperative to recovery. 

What stroke support services does VON offer?
We focus on practical advice, support, sharing, fun, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, emotional well-being and connections in the community — all of which can have a positive impact on rebuilding independence after stroke.

We offer a variety of in-person and virtual support groups, for stroke survivors, adults with aphasia and for caregivers. We also offer educational resources and programming such as the six-week living with stroke series developed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. We run a volunteer program in which trained stroke survivor volunteers connect with other survivors individually to offer peer support.

We’re the only stroke services program at VON, so we’re lucky to be able to work with so many community partners, both medical and non-medical. For example, the Stroke Network of Southeastern Ontario, Providence Care, community brain injury services, home care support services, and local academic institutions like St. Lawrence College and Queens University. 

Why are stroke-specific support groups, like those offered by VON, so important?
Stroke can be a profound life change. Although it’s relatively common, not everyone who has experienced a stroke has the opportunity to meet other survivors. Stroke-specific support groups allow stroke survivors and their loved ones to support each other as they deal with these life changes. They share stories, tips, strategies, resources enhance well-being and empowerment. It creates a sense of community, where survivors can encourage each other and share effective coping skills. Connecting with other survivors can help them feel less isolated and fearful of the future. 

You also offer programming specific to people with aphasia. What is aphasia? Why are aphasia-specific programs important?
Aphasia is a communication and language disorder caused by an injury to the parts of the brain related to communication. It is most often, but not always, caused by a stroke. It can impair a person’s ability to speak and/or to understand, read or write. 

VON offers smaller, aphasia-specific support groups, including an eight-week supported conversation group with a speech language pathologist. We also offer the Aphasia Buddies program, in which volunteers will meet with and have conversations with the client with aphasia to help them practice their communication skills. This can help reduce their social isolation and build confidence and self-esteem.  

Building confidence is one of the goals of your programs. Why is this so important for stroke survivors?
Confidence can aid a stroke survivor in their recovery. It can make it easier for survivors to advocate for themselves, educate others and persist when they find recovery difficult. Many stroke survivors experience grief or a sense of loss after stroke, therefore focussing on building confidence can help face the difficulties caused by stroke and its associated emotional impacts. Further, building confidence for stroke survivors can enhance life participation after stroke and redefining a sense of self after changes from stroke.

Five fast facts about stroke 

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in Canada and the third leading cause of death. Every year, nearly 14,000 Canadians die from stroke. 

Across the country, someone experiences a stroke every 9 minutes. 

For every 100 people who have a stroke:

  • 15 will die
  • 40 are left with a moderate to severe impairment 
  • 10 are so severely disabled they require long-term care 
  • 25 recover with a minor impairment or disability 
  • 10 recover completely

Stroke recovery is complex: each person is affected differently by stroke depending on what part of the brain was affected and the amount of damage. 

Up to 40% of people who survive stroke will have aphasia. Aphasia is a communication and language disorder caused by an injury to the parts of the brain related to communication. It is not an intellectual disorder.