St. Luke’s uses garden therapy for stroke recovery

St. Luke’s uses garden therapy for stroke recovery

The month of May is American Stroke month, during which doctors and The American Heart and Stroke Associations bring awareness to recognizing the signs of, preventing, and recovering from strokes.

For recognizing the signs of stroke, the organization recommends people use the acronym FAST, recognizing that those suffering from stroke will likely have facial dropping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and if that’s the case then it is time to call 9-1-1.

At St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, doctors see a lot of patients coming in with strokes and use gardening as a means of therapy.

“A stroke typically occurs when there is death to the brain tissue,” said Dr. Frank Jackson, the Medical Director for the Brain Injury Program at St. Luke’s. “You wouldn’t think that something as simple as gardening would be a therapy.”

He says that it helps stroke patients work on sight and focus, helps them re-create motor control mechanisms, and then translate those into arm and hand movements. Additionally, it helps get them outside and out of their hospital rooms.

One of the stroke patients prescribed gardening therapy was 93-year old Robert Mueller, who recently suffered a stroke.

“I’m here to get well,” he said.

His wife Jean says when he had a stroke she knew immediately what was happening and called 9-1-1 for help. For him, the hardest part of having a stroke was the loss of motor function and not being able to do what he loves. Turns out, he was an avid gardener and was thrilled when he found out he was to spend time gardening as a treatment.

“He has improved so much mentally and physically,” said Mueller.

Another part of the therapy is that doing something as simple as gardening re-opens a stroke patient’s mind to the fact that they can recover.

“It motivates them and teaches them different ways of doing things, it gives them hope and understanding of the things the can do post stroke,” said recreation therapist, Sara Dunbar. “When you have a stroke your limitations are all you focus on.”

The gardening therapy is a partnership between St. Luke’s and the WSU Master Gardener program, with volunteers coming every week during the growing season to help stroke patients recover.

For more information on strokes from the American Heart Association and Stroke Association click here.