Stroke Support Groups Initiate New Virtual Model

“Both my wife (who is a stroke survivor) and I have been attending the stroke support group for several years now.  We have found this service to be very effective; a place to go to where you feel like you belong, where you receive answers to your questions and practical guidance.  The camaraderie of the group fills an important gap in addressing the loneliness that can occur after a stroke when neighbors, friends and co-workers may drift away over time.  There is nothing worse than loneliness and isolation and the support group not only meets this need but also helps you to become a part of the solution.”  - Larry Varcoe, Caregiver The Southeastern Annual Stroke Support Group Report highlights the creativity and adaptability demonstarted by the Stroke Support Group Facilitators (SSGF) and the support group members in response to the pandemic.  With the onset of COVID restrictions, the Stroke Support Group Facilitators (SSGF) had to quickly pivot to ensure that stroke survivors and caregivers continued to receive the supports necessary to maintain quality of life in their home setting.  A strategy initiated early in the pandemic was the introduction of virtual support groups which included supports specific to Adults with Aphasia (AWA).  Recognizing that this approach would not meet the needs of all stroke survivors and caregivers, the SSGF also integrated other supportive interventions including phone check-ins, ‘porch pal’ visits and virtual bingo games.  Innovative work was done by all the SSGF to meet the ongoing challenges of COVID restrictions including:Ongoing phone check-ins in all areas with stroke survivors and caregivers who did not participate in virtual groups and/or needed additional supportsBelleville continued with the very popular virtual bingo games providing a welcome social interaction for participantsLLG continued with ‘porch pal’ visits providing in-person visits to vulnerable and isolated individuals while respecting infection control parametersBelleville and Kingston initiated virtual Aphasia Supportive Conversation Groups.  Kingston has also offered a virtual support group specifically for AWA.Virtual meetings between SSGF and inpatients (in collaboration with hospital teams) have been initiated in QHC, PCH and BGH.  The Kingston model also includes members of the community-based stroke support group.Belleville offered a virtual Living with Stroke© program.  This was the first time that this self-management program has been offered virtually and it was well-received.A virtual regional Stroke Awareness Event was held in June.  This event invited stroke survivors and caregivers to hear from a variety of speakers on the topic of the ‘invisible’ impacts of stroke.  A variety of additional awareness-raising activities coordinated by the SSGF took place during Stroke and Aphasia Month in June.Brockville initiated a virtual peer visiting program in BGH where trained stroke survivors from the community virtually visit new stroke survivors in BGH.  In Kingston, a trained stroke support volunteer has continued to call stroke survivors during COVID to provide support and regular check-ins.Brockville has produced a video invitation to the LLG Stroke Support Groups and has also produced accessible informational documentsBrockville introduced a pen pal program (Reach Out and Don’t Touch Someone) to provide connections for those individuals not participating in virtual sessionsWork has been done to raise awareness of aphasia in the community including the formulation of a letter template that can be shared with businesses that have been identified by an AWA as needing some heightened understanding of this communication impairmentBelleville was successful in obtaining a grant from the Starbucks Foundation which will be directed towards programming for stroke survivors (e.g. music therapy)All the SSGF are now working on the re-initiation of in-person stroke support groups while respecting COVID restrictions.  The Stroke Network of Southeastern Ontario continues to be extremely appreciative of and impressed by the amazing work done by the SSGF.  The ongoing dedication of these three individuals (Lorraine Pyle, Emilia Leslie and Wendy Clark) and their respective community support agencies (Community Care for South Hastings, VON-Greater Kingston and CPHC-Senior Support Services) ensures that stroke survivors and caregivers in the community have access to a diversity of services to support optimal quality of life. Learn more to read the full evaluation report as well as the Infographic which provides a visual highlight of key report findings. If you would like additional information or have questions about the annual report, please contact the Regional Stroke Office at 613-549-6666 x 3853.