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"How To": The Volunteer Toolkit to Accompany a Stroke Patient in the Pool

Hi everyone! As you know, this blog is highly supportive of stroke recovery efforts in the pool, also known as aquatic therapy. Today, I wanted to spend some time describing how we use volunteers to help stroke patients in the pool.

For potential volunteers, it's important to understand that a stroke patient feels very vulnerable. They struggle constantly with physical and mental recovery. Importantly, they are often also acutely aware of the loss of function they experienced. It is this knowledge that can make them fearful, make them depressed and make their recovery challenging.

But good news, you are there to help them! That's the first goal of your volunteer opportunity, to accompany the patient in the process. Introduce yourself, tell the patient you are there to help. Let them know by your body language you are reliable. Of course that means being constantly by their side in the pool, helping to steady them, holding their arm. It also means engaging eye-to-eye with them to let them know they have a partner in the work. Bring your best smile, your most positive demeanor, your quickest laugh. As Clausewitz taught us, the mental game is 75% of the struggle. Your optimism and encouragement will be infectious, lifting the spirits of your patient.

The next skill you'll need to bring is the ability to listen to the therapist and accurately repeat those instructions to the patient. The therapist is there to ensure that the rehabilitation session is productive. moving the patient along the pathway to healing. The therapist will provide the exercises, putting them in a particular order and providing a description of them. Again, you'll need to be a good partner to your patient here. The patient may be distracted by 101 things, from the feel of the water, to the mental struggle of recovery, to physical pain, to the age, vision or hearing disability they could be experiencing. Your job will be to listen closely for the therapist instructions, to absorb them, and accurately repeat them to the patient. Here, you may want to explain this part in advance to your patient, so they are ready to listen to you.

Your last main job is to accurately mimic in reverse the motion that the therapist is calling out. That is, you want to be the mirror for the patient, allowing them to see as well as hear what is expected of them. You'll have to imagine you are the image in the mirror, and when the therapist tells the patients to bend their left leg, you'll be bending your right leg. All the while, it will be important to remain close by, physically supporting the patient if needed, keeping the positive, optimistic outlook in your words, gestures and on your face.

Thank you in advance for volunteering. Your presence means more to the stroke patient than you can imagine. Who knows, maybe with your encouragement, that day they will try something new, succeed at something they thought was impossible, have a breakthrough on their road to recovery. That would be their gift back to you.

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