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Car wrecking can be a vehicle for stroke rehab

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Car wrecking can be a vehicle for stroke rehab

Dismantling car engines and sorting parts is proving to be a successful form of rehabilitation for stroke survivors under 65 in a unique project at the Manfeild Raceway, near Feilding.

The Four Stroke Engine Club, officially launched today, highlights the benefits of innovative approaches in helping the growing number of stroke sufferers in this age group for whom there are limited rehabilitation options or resources in many parts of the country.

The club started several months ago when Massey University health psychologist Dr Sara Joice saw an opportunity for stroke survivors she works with. Many struggle with traditional, clinical settings designed primarily for geriatric patients.

So when one of her clients – and a founding member of the club – confided he loved cars and car racing, she made inquiries. A bit of networking and support from Manfeild contacts as well as local stroke support unit, the Stewart Centre, saw the club vroom into life in April.

Dr Joice says the twice-weekly meetings under the car bonnet is helping the men (women are welcome too) overcome disabilities incurred through stroke, such as loss of muscle control, coordination, and concentration, as well as speech impairment and memory loss. But it is the as all-important psychological impacts like loss of confidence, self-esteem and social contact that belonging to the club helps them with.

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“It's about having meaningful activity to engage the brain,” she says. “It might look messy, but dismantling a car involves problem-solving and deductive reasoning. What’s helpful too is that they are accepting of each other, and tolerant of the challenges each is facing in their recovery – because stroke affects everybody differently.”

Many of the clients she has treated through a partnership between Massey’s Psychology Clinic and MidCentral District Health Board don't fit the traditional stroke patient profile in terms of age and post-stroke life expectations. They want to return to work, family life and pursue other activities, she says.

The idea behind getting ‘blokes with strokes’ aged in their 20s to 60s together under the bonnet of an impounded car is to provide therapeutic benefits through a structured, fun, sociable activity in a non-clinical, non-stigmatised environment that is meaningful to them and useful to others.

The parts they remove are sent to wreckers’ yards for spares, and the car bodies converted for stock car racing. Club members get free passes to the race meetings.

What is stroke?

A stroke is a where a blood clot or bleed occurs in the brain and damages the area around where it occurred. This damage affects the neural pathways that control specific areas of the body. For example, if the damage occurs in the area of the brain responsible for speech, then very often the ability for someone to communicate is impaired.

It is estimated that 40 children per year will be affected by stroke and up to 2000 (one quarter of all strokes) will be experienced by people under retirement age, Dr Joice says.

Dr Joice says that brain scanning and research has shown that the brain can develop new neural pathways to replace damaged ones (neuroplasticity). “However, to promote these pathways the stroke survivor has to practice movements that may be very hard for them, boring and often don’t appear to be making any difference.”

Focus on younger stroke survivors needed

“Generally, the focus of care provided by health services tends to be preventative or aimed at the acute phase of stroke which potentially can overlook ongoing rehabilitative aspects,” Dr Joice says. “Yet the incidence of stroke will increase in part due to its association with other long-term conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, the number of people living with the consequences of stroke will increase and their rehabilitation needs may not be met due to resources and the focus on prevention.“

“Traditionally, stroke survivors attend formal rehabilitation that tends to be focused on the things that survivors cannot do rather than on what they can do, though this is changing. Growing evidence suggests that engaging survivors in meaningful activities at which they can practise, physically and mentally, has greater benefit.”

The club hopes to open more workshops at Manfeild Raceway as space and funding allows.

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