Chances are, you or someone you know has a family member going through some sort of rehabilitation. It can be a painful and intimidating journey, and watching a loved one suffer through it may seem even worse. So you might be wondering what you can do to help those in your life going through rehab?
The answer to the question of the rehab journey might be simpler than you think. It is well known that families play an important role in health across the lifespan, and a recent study published out of the Gerontological Society of Canada entitled Family Relationships and Well-Being highlighted this point (Thomas, Liu & Umberson, 2017). A similar study looking at patients going through rehabilitation after a stroke found that family members being present and positively encouraging their loved ones led to greater intentions of independence and promoted cognitive regain (Fang et al., 2017).
Family on the Rehab Journey
It’s really easy to complicate healthcare. When it comes to rehabilitation, there are frequent tests you have to complete and procedures you have to follow. Often times healthcare professionals will use terminology that is beyond your understanding and can leave you feeling more confused and uncertain about the progression of your treatment plan. But the finding of family and its impact on rehabilitation outcomes helps offset the complex and often overwhelming ambience surrounding healthcare. The evidence seems to suggest that the most important thing families can do during rehab is simple: be there. Be at the appointments. Be at the procedures. Be there when they’re working with the therapist. Be there for the good days, and for the bad. You know your loved ones better than anyone. You know what makes them nervous, happy, excited, sad and hopeful. No one is looking for you to write a long, motivating speech or develop a comprehensive activity plan to help get them through rehab. Just be there.
There is an abundance of research that highlights the importance such social connections have on health outcomes. A review article written by Kevin Wright (2016) reiterated the fact that social networks are fundamentally important for attaining optimal health outcomes in the general population. The idea that the mere presence of family can have this type of effect on people’s health outcomes is fascinating, but when you think critically about it, this type of relationship makes sense. Think of your own life experiences and how your mood may change depending on whether or not you have family with you. Chances are, being around your parents, friends or other loved ones makes you more comfortable, even if you’re in an otherwise adverse situation.
Making a Difference
Looking at an example may highlight just how important family support can be for someone’s rehabilitative journey. Let’s say there are two different individuals who get into a car accident, and both require extensive physical and mental rehabilitation. Individual A has close relationships with his family, and they frequently accompany him to his medical appointments and assist him as he completes the outlined therapeutic regimens. Individual B on the other hand, does not have this support and has to complete his therapy and go to all his appointments alone. Based on this information alone, it’s safe to assume that individual A will likely have vastly improved success with his therapy compared to individual B. The ongoing support individual received will likely have a substantial role in reducing stress and creating an environment where the sole focus can be on recovery. While this is a simplistic example, it provides a very clear picture with respect to how health outcomes may be drastically different for individuals receiving familial support compared to those who are not.
Moving Towards Recovery
So if you’re looking to help someone in your life through the rehabilitation process, try just being there. Provide encouragement, positivity and love, because your presence may just be the difference between a loved one finding their way to thrive again or struggling through the rehab journey alone.
Need Some Help?
Care-giving after traumatic injury is hard and you want to be your best for your loved one. That means taking care of yourself as well. Remember the adage, “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. Here are some links to find caregiver support:
Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Ontario Caregiver Association
Fang, Y., Tao, Q., Zhou, X., Chen, S., Huang, J., Jiang, Y., … & Chan, C. C. (2017). Patient and family member factors influencing outcomes of poststroke inpatient rehabilitation.
Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 98(2), 249-255.
Thomas, P. A., Liu, H., & Umberson, D. (2017). Family relationships and well-being. The Gerontological Society of Canada: Innovation in Aging, 1(3), doi: 10.1093/geroni/igx025
Wright, K. (2016). Social networks, interpersonal social support, and health outcomes: A health communication perspective. Frontiers in Communication, 1, 10.
See more about the importance of family involvement in the rehabilitation process
Ulaş, E., & Ekşi, H. (2019). Inclusion of Family Therapy in Rehabilitation Program of Substance Abuse and Its Efficacious Implementation. The Family Journal, 27(4), 443-451. Wulf-Andersen, C., & Mogensen, J. (2017). Family and home in cognitive rehabilitation after brain injury: The importance of family oriented interventions. NeuroRehabilitation, 41(2), 519-525.