Ursula practices writing using techniques she learned during rehabilation
With techniques she learned during her rehabilitation, Ursula practises writing.

Can stroke survivors write their own stories?

Ursula lived a healthy, retired life in Scarborough. From mini golf with her church group to travelling the world, this 73-year-old grandmother is active, social and most of all, independent.

She never expected that it would all fade.

After two days with lost coordination, dizziness and vision problems, Ursula knew she needed to go to the hospital. She had a bilateral cerebellar stroke - a rare stroke that affected both sides of her brain and left her completely immobile.

When she came to St. John's Rehab, she was slipping out of her wheelchair and couldn't even sign her own name on admission.

"I was ready to give up," she recalls. "But, I wanted to feel like a normal person again."

Ursula worked hard with physiotherapists on basic physical functions, like standing on her own. Not being able to sign her name was demoralizing, so her occupational therapists helped her learn to write again.

Our therapists use many specialized exercises and strategies that apply to patients' daily lives. Now, our researchers are studying how this approach can help patients make meaningful recoveries.

Thanks in part to a $154,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Dr. Sara McEwen, a research scientist at St. John's Rehab, is investigating the benefits of the Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance (CO-OP). Using this approach, stroke patients are taught problem- solving strategies that apply to tasks beyond what they learn during rehabilitation.

In Ursula's case, using problem-solving strategies that helped her learn to write may also help her learn to knit a sweater for her newborn granddaughter. Dr. McEwen is investigating CO-OP because studies show that stroke patients increasingly disengage in life activities following their discharge. With the problem-solving skills they need to tackle life's challenges, stroke survivors may be able to participate fully in life.

Through dedicated research projects like these, St. John's Rehab can evaluate and develop new treatment methods that help rebuild people's lives. Stroke and neurology rehabilitation research is also made possible thanks to the investments of our generous donors, such as Barbara and the late Warren Goldring. Their support helps people like Ursula reclaim their independence and do the things they enjoy most.

Ursula is thankful for the time she spent at St. John's Rehab: "I couldn't have come to a better place. They bring you back to life."