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IPads aid treatment for stroke survivors

Help speech pathologist reach northern patients

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Grace Jonasson's iPad was a game-changer for her stroke treatment. The 50-year-old, who had a stroke three years ago, keeps a daily journal on her iPad and uses apps to improve her speech and memory.

"I've almost gotten my old self back," she said. "It's sped up my recovery."

At first blush it may seem an unusual treatment method, but a new program is putting iPads in the hands of stroke patients in northern Manitoba who may not have access to regular treatment.

Jonasson lives in Wabowden, about 100 kilometres south of Thompson, making it difficult for her to visit a speech pathologist. By using the iPad and meeting via video chat with her speech pathologist in Winnipeg, she said her treatment has rapidly excelled.

"You cannot get change in the brain unless you're working three hours a week on an activity focused on brain change," said Allison Baird, speech pathologist at SpeechWorks Inc. in Winnipeg and creator of the project.

Baird used to make northern visits once a month to see patients, which is not nearly enough time to make a difference in their rehabilitation, she said.

"They sit and their brains go to sleep," she said about the lack of patient treatment. "I knew some of these people and I was struggling with how to treat them."

It was in fall of 2010 that she first came up with the concept of using iPads for treatment, but it wasn't until the end of January 2012 that the project got up and running with a $157,000 grant from Manitoba Patient Access Network, partnering with the Northern Regional Health Authority and MBTelehealth.

The iPads, she said, provide a solution to the lack of treatment, using memory game apps or speech apps that say words aloud and couple them with pictures. Even the regular programs on the tablet, such as to-do lists, calendars and a journal, have helped significantly, she adds.

Jonasson said she lost dexterity after her stroke and the iPad's touch screen allowed her to write down her thoughts in a journal and communicate.

"Having to do a personal journal helped me reflect on my emotions," she said.

She started to joke and laugh again after her treatment, Jonasson said. Memory and maze games also helped her to complete tasks and to improve memory and focus. Now she thinks she'll be able to return to work as early as the fall.

Cristin Smook, stroke rehabilitation co-ordinator for the Northern Regional Health Authority in Thompson, said the treatment has also fostered awareness in northern Manitoba about strokes and the health conditions that lead to them.

"There's now a resource for them in the north, whereas they were always being sent to Winnipeg for anything stroke-related. It's kind of a stepping stone for bigger things we could do in the north," she said.

There are 10 iPads in the program, with the program being completely full since it began, said Smook. As for the technology, Smook said part of the therapy is teaching people how to use the tablets and learn a new skill. Tech-savviness hasn't really been a barrier, she said.

The most drastic changes Baird said she's seen is in relationships.

"Suddenly you have something that pulls people towards you," she said. "If you're sitting in a wheelchair and you're mumbling and no one can understand you, or you're angry, if you have a device that pulls people in, you've created a huge life experience that person has lost."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2012 A5

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