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Strokes can hit anyone, occupational therapist says

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. The Royal Gazette is helping to improve knowledge on how to prevent and treat brain injuries, as well as highlight services available for those affected. Jill Davidson is a Canadian-trained occupational therapist with more than 25 years’ experience. Function Junction, her company, provides paediatric occupational therapy services.
Jill Davidson, occupational therapist and owner of Function Junction (Photograph supplied)

When people hear the word “stroke”, most picture it happening to someone in their later years rather a baby.

But Jill Davidson, a paediatric occupational therapist and owner of Function Junction, said she had looked after an infant who suffered a brain injury after a stroke.

Ms Davidson added: “One of my young clients had a stroke, which initially resulted in him not being able to move one side of his body.

“It’s such a scary, frightening time for a family. When you have a child, you have dreams and ambitions for your baby and when an accident or injury happens you start to question everything.

“Working in paediatrics, my client is not only the baby, but the entire family. Listening to the parent, and understanding their daily frustrations and joys is key.”

Ms Davidson was speaking as part of a series in The Royal Gazette designed to highlight Brain Injuries Awareness Month.

She explained that, as an OT who worked with children, she had to take a developmental and team approach.

She said the little boy had to learn to roll over, crawl, walk, talk and play all over again.

Ms Davidson said it was crucial to strengthen his weaker side and encourage him to use that side of his body and that simple things such as where to position a toy were important.

She added: “The work of children is play. Through play, we strengthened his motor skills, cognitive skills, attention and visual skills.

“I know this family works diligently with their son on all the activities they do in their various therapy sessions.

“His dad will come back and report what he can do now that he could not do last week. The smallest improvements are celebrated.”

Ms Davidson said it took a team of professionals to help to get a brain injury victim on the road to recovery.

She added that a team could consist of a doctor, neuro-specialists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, ophthalmologists and counsellors, as well as other professionals.

Ms Davidson said the ultimate goal was to help the client become as independent as possible.

Occupational therapy is a healthcare discipline that looks at a person’s physical abilities as well as their mental and emotional wellbeing.

OTs help to solve the problems that interfere with a patient’s ability to do the things that are important to them.

These include simple tasks such as getting dressed and eating, going to work, school or a community event and leisure activities such as sports, gardening or socialising.

Ms Davidson said: “OTs focus on ‘the skills for the job of living’.

“OTs and physiotherapists work closely together. We often joke that the physiotherapist will get you up and walking, but it’s the OT that will make sure you’re not naked.

“Therapy is based on what the client’s goals are and how it will help them achieve as much independence as they can.”

OTs are able to help with the development of skills such gross motor, fine motor, visual tracking and cognitive and sensory processing.

They can also assist with memory skills, self-control, planning and organisation.

Ms Davidson said she had worked with a teenager who suffered a brain injury in a road accident — one of the most common causes of that type of injury on the island.

When she saw him first, he was hooked up to tubes and unable to communicate or move.

Ms Davidson said her work at that stage concentrated on positioning his body to assist healing.

She explained: “Splinting, along with passive range of motion exercises, prevented tight muscles that would make it difficult to move later.

“It is so exciting when a client in this condition starts to move … even if it is just a toe or a finger.”

She added that her services were useful, even after he had improved enough to go home.

Ms Davidson said: “Providing caregiver information and equipment that was necessary for safety and to promote independence was key.

“Ongoing occupational therapy sessions continued to strengthen his memory, problem-solving skills, body movements and hand-dexterity skills.

“Also, finding avenues for him to volunteer and feel productive boosted his self-confidence and motivation.

“The joy seen on his face when he was helping others was incredible.

Ms Davidson added: “Now I pass him in town or see him waiting at the bus stop with a huge smile on his face. I think back to the journey he has been through and his family was there every step of the way. What an inspiration.“

Ms Davidson can be contacted by e-mailing ot@functionjunction.bm or by phone at 336-5455.

Ways to help a friend or family member with a brain injury

Learn about brain injury

Read about brain injury and talk to your friend or family member about what they are experiencing and where they need help.

Remember that brain injury effects can fluctuate day to day. One day they may be coping and the next struggling.

Encourage your friend/family member to seek support

Ensure they have someone to talk to. They need to be able to discuss their feelings. Many people who have had a brain injury or are caring for a person with a brain injury suffer a sense of loss.

Look out for your friend

Offer help where needed. Don’t assume that just because they appear to be coping that they are. But, at the same time, respect their independence and let them do what they can.

Your loved one may have a lack of insight. Speak to their family or doctor about any safety concerns.

Offer Practical Support

Offer to help with childcare, or to make a meal.

Ask your friend or family member if they need assistance with grocery shopping or transport.

Out and about

Fatigue is common. Keep visits or outings short. A busy outing one day can affect their energy levels the next day.

Some people struggle in busy, noisy environments. Consider meeting your friend in a quiet place with fewer distractions.

Include your friend or family member in your activities. If they are unable to take part in activities you both enjoyed before the injury, or are no longer interested, try to find new or modified activities that are safe and enjoyable.

Occupational therapist services

There are about 34 occupational therapists registered in Bermuda and they can be found in:

• The Bermuda Hospitals Board — the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute.

• The Ministry of Health — The Department of Health.

• Private practice.

A list of registered occupational therapists can be found on the Bermuda Health Council website at www.bhec.bm.

For general information on the profession, contact the Bermuda Occupational Therapy Association by e-mailing bota.bda@gmail.com

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Published March 16, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated March 16, 2022 at 7:52 am)

Strokes can hit anyone, occupational therapist says

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