With physiotherapy sessions cancelled, stroke survivors are struggling to get proper exercise at home, even as isolation takes a mental and emotional toll
The coronavirus pandemic has hindered the rehabilitation efforts of stroke survivors in Hong Kong.
The city confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on January 23 and has since recorded over 1,000 infections and four deaths. The rapid increase in cases prompted cancellations of non-emergency hospital appointments and stricter social distancing measures.
Abbie Yeung, one of our nursing school colleagues at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, spoke to four stroke survivors about the changes this brought about in their lives.
“I cannot attend my sports therapy sessions as they have been suspended due to the virus,” said a 59-year-old stroke survivor who has lived for three years with hemiplegia, or paralysis affecting one side of his body. “I also don’t go to the park any more, so I have been getting less exercise recently.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, stroke survivors have reported receiving less physiotherapy and had follow-up appointments postponed, resulting in a slowdown in their rehabilitation progress.
Stroke survivors who are wheelchair-bound or have muscle weakness face greater trouble when changing clothes or taking a shower. Moving their limbs about and walking in the living room are common exercise strategies adopted during the pandemic. However, they say this is not as helpful, as the workout is of lower intensity than going outdoors or physiotherapy sessions.
A 33-year-old recent stroke survivor with hemiplegia recounted her experience: “I have been performing at-home exercises, but I don’t really know if I’m doing them right. I think it isn’t as effective so I feel quite unhappy about it.”
Being stuck at home has impeded the emotional health and social participation of stroke survivors, which are important milestones in stroke rehabilitation to help patients regain independence and a sense of normalcy. Being stuck at home also exerts a mental toll.
“I have impaired immunity so I cannot go outside to eat whenever I want, like before. Because of this, my mood is usually very low nowadays,” a 49-year-old male stroke survivor said.
With reduced social interaction, stroke survivors feel bored and demotivated at home, spending much of their time on their phones or watching television. “I talk to my friends on the phone or through WhatsApp but I still feel like my social circle is getting smaller,” said one 64-year-old woman.
Hong Kong has an ageing population, which has led to an increasing incidence of stroke. About 20,000 people in the city are hospitalised annually due to stroke, and around half of all strokes result in disability.
Stroke rehabilitation is essential in helping survivors achieve the best quality of life possible. The impact of the coronavirus on such patients should not be overlooked.
Janita Chau Pak-chun, Suzanne Lo Hoi-shan and Ravneet Saran, The Nethersole School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong