It's amazing the difference that family support has in an individual's recovery from injury. Even patients with devastating injuries seem better equipped to handle life's changes and adjust to their injury if they have the support of loved ones (family & friends). One of my more recent patients was in rehabilitation after sustaining a stroke. He had been in "picture perfect" health, according to his family, so the stroke came as quite a shock to everyone.
Rubio was a very quiet man. He worked hard in therapy, but I could tell that he was depressed with the changes that have occured in his body following the stroke. He had minimal movement in his left arm/hand, and he needs help to transfer and walk due to leg weakness. He was been making good improvements in therapy (in terms of his motor control and functional status), I know that a key reason why is because he has such a supportive family.
Rubio and his wife, Maria, have been married for 47 years. They have 8 children. On the day of Rubio's family conference (a time when the patient/family meets with the medical team and therapy team all togther to provide information regarding diagnosis/prognosis/discharge expectations), we barely had enough chairs for everyone who came to participate from his family! I was so impressed by the questions his children and wife asked: "What are positive signs of recovery that we can look for in my Dad?"; "What kind of exercises can we do with him at home?"; "What can we do to prevent another stroke from happening?"; etc. It was a great opportunity for us all to talk and determine how we could continue to meet Rubio's goals even after discharge from Rehab.
Another striking thing about Rubio's family: someone is always at the hospital with him. His wife arrives early in the morning and different sons/daughters visit throughout the day to assist with his therapy and to learn from the therapists. They are his "cheerleaders" -- and serve a key role in helping to motivate him to continue working hard in therapy. For me, the family is a great source of information about him-- what his interests are, what he does for fun, what his role was in the family/at work. Rubio had a hard time telling me these things himself due to his quiet nature. After talking with the family, we started doing therapy more outside because he likes sunshine and doesn't like the other patients watching him (for example: balance exercises on the grass, curb training by the sidewalk, walking in an outdoor obstacle course).
It is important for me to provide education on the importance of patient independence when a family is this motivated and participatory in a patient's rehab stay. Although the family wants to help as much as possible (and this is common in Hispanic culture), I have needed to explain how important it is for Rubio to do as much as possible for himself. Not only does it help him to realize his abilities and use the side that was affected by the stroke, but it also helps him feel more like the independent man he was prior to the injury. A big part of my preparation for the family prior to discharge is about how we can set-up the enviornment so that Rubio can be independent- and only ask for help when he really needs it.
One of the things I like best about rehab is showing patients (and families) how much they can do. It seems like after injury, people mainly focus on what they can't do. We had family training last week to prepare for Rubio to go home for a day over the weekend. This is common in order for us to find out if there are any major barriers in the home prior to official discharge from program-- it gives us an opportunity to work on any issues in the last few days of therapy. In training, Rubio's son could hardly believe that he only needed a little help (maybe 15% for balance) to walk up 3 stairs. The last time his son had been there, Rubio needed 2 people to help with walking; he was astonished at his progress! Father & son both got a little teary eyed as they realized together that he was getting better, that he was going home soon, and that there was a brighter future ahead.