What is a stroke?
A stroke is a sudden, disabling attack that happens when a part of someone’s brain is starved of oxygen and the nerves in that area die. This means any part of the body controlled by that part of the brain – usually down the left- or right-hand side of the body – no longer functions.
But, thankfully, the brain is an incredibly adaptable thing, and the part of it left unaffected by the stroke can learn to take up the slack and control the damaged side of the body. This is where a lifetime of rehabilitation begins – because whilst the brain and body can recover, it is a long, slow and difficult process to literally rewire the brain and grow new nerve pathways.
This is where stroke rehabilitation classes come in.
Skipton’s Stroke Rehab Class
A couple of years ago I passed a stroke rehabilitation course and now run the Stroke Rehab Scheme at Craven Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre, every Friday at 2.15pm. This is where people who have suffered a stroke can come along to improve both their physical and mental wellbeing. The class consists of a series of exercises designed to challenge a person’s fitness, balance, coordination and movement skills, with the difficulty of the exercises varying depending on the person’s individual requirements and abilities.
To make the classes as useful as possible, I make sure every exercise has a practical application that can be carried into a person’s everyday life.
For example, we have one exercise that everyone loves, although its name – ‘The Torture Table’ – might suggest otherwise! Here, we work on improving the strength and dexterity of people’s hands and arms – picking up, manipulating and screwing and unscrewing objects, and handling fiddly little items like coins and buttons. They might sound trivial but these exercises are crucial to improving a stroke sufferer’s quality of life, their confidence and their sense of independence.
The team works
Of course I’m biased but I know we’re doing really important work here. And seeing the effort and attitude everyone puts in makes me so proud of them. It swells the heart to see someone who’s been working for weeks on an exercise finally nailing it – and the brilliant support they get from the rest of the group is just the best!
We really do have an excellent group at the class. They all help and encourage one another, and they aren’t shy of taking the mick out of me when I mess something up – which is hardly ever, obviously!
And when a member of the group sets a personal best it spurs the others on to do the same – like when Andrew and Keith get out of their wheelchairs and walk a record distance, or when Michael rides the fastest mile on the exercise bike. The attitude and determination I see in this group is honestly like watching athletes in training.
Special considerations for stroke survivors
Soon after I started training with stroke survivors – and people with various other injuries and disabilities – I realised something very important: I don’t train them any differently than any of my other clients! The specific exercises may vary but they will still be rehearsing, drilling and perfecting moves that they can apply in everyday life.
In my experience, most stroke survivors don’t want to be treated differently or handled with kid gloves. They want to get on with happy, fulfilling and productive lives, just like everybody else. It’s so important to remember that just because someone has suffered a stroke or an injury or has a disability, it doesn’t mean they are any less of a person.
So, regardless of who you are or what has happened to you, I will be just as nasty to you in training as I am to anyone else!
Some final wise words
To sign off, I’d like to leave you with something a wise person once said when talking about recovering from a stroke:
‘Improving movement after a stroke is like trying to cross an overgrown field full of brambles and nettles. The first time we try to cross it, it will be difficult, hard work, uncomfortable, unpleasant and frustrating.
‘But each time we try, we beat down more of a pathway. And the more times we try, the clearer and easier that pathway becomes.
‘The trick is: just keep beating down that pathway.’
To get more information about strokes, you can start at the wonderful NHS website here and the hugely informative Stroke Association site here.
And if you’d like more information on stroke rehabilitation in and around Skipton, please visit my website here.