Saturday, June 28, 2008

Secret weapon in mother’s recovery from a stroke

manda McEwan's recovery from a stroke at the age of just 29 has been aided by an unlikely helper - her six-year-old son, Owen.

Nothing could have prepared Ms McEwan for the shock of having a stroke when she was so young.

But setting out how to deal with the aftermath of such a life-changing event is something that can be eased by adequate preparation.

As well as receiving support from the Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland's group in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Ms McEwan is helped by Owen as they both learn to read and write.

Her case emerged as professional and voluntary bodies today call on the Scottish Government to do more to help nearly one in five stroke sufferers who are failed by the health service.

Speech therapists and support groups say not enough is done to help people who struggle to communicate after a stroke.

It is estimated that around 15% of the 12,500 Scots who suffer a stroke each year fall through the support net and do not receive adequate help to rebuild communication skills, often leaving them frustratingly cut off from family and the wider community.

Ms McEwan, 35, has made a remarkable recovery after doctors feared she may not survive. Hers is an example of how it should be done, and she receives "amazing" help through her Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, support group.

"They are amazing, but so is Owen. He makes me read from word to word as he is learning and he is only . . ." She counts out loud, one to six, before adding "six", an illustration of how she must relearn basic tasks.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in Scotland, the Stroke Association, Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland and Speakability have joined forces to make sure everyone has the level of treatment Ms McEwan was given. They want improved recording of such communication disabilities, possibly by introducing a "Scottish stroke care audit".

Without knowing the numbers of stroke victims who have problems talking, planning care is hampered. The campaigners are calling for easier routes for patients to have speech therapy support through clear referral procedures and continuing help for as long as it is needed.

They said the call is supported by the Stroke Association's research in its Lost Without Words report.

Maddy Halliday, director Scotland of the Stroke Association, said: "Experiencing a stroke can have many severe consequences. One of the most common and devastating effects can be the onset of a communication disability.

"Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland and Speakability provide communication support services across Scotland, and this is greatly valued by people affected by aphasia."

But she added: "Because we don't know the numbers of people affected by a communication disability, we don't know if everyone who needs a service is getting one. Lost Without Words is a call to action to address need and catch those who may be falling through the gaps in receiving this vital support."

The report recommends a clear referral procedure into communication support services as the procedures are at present not consistent.

Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland chief executive David Clark said: "Amanda's story highlights that speech problems, or aphasia, are the real hidden disabilities after stroke. Being unable to communicate normally is incredibly frustrating and, as in Amanda's case, often affects whole families."

A damaged brain

  • A STROKE occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or destroyed.

  • Because the brain controls everything the body does, damage to the brain will affect body functions.

  • It can also affect how we think, learn, feel and communicate.

  • A stroke is sudden and the effects on the body are immediate.

  • While strokes mostly affect people over 65, some 20% are experienced by people under that age.

  • Stroke is the leading cause of severe disability among adults.

  • It is the third most common cause of death, killing three times as many women as breast cancer.