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Open Access Research article

Peer support for stroke survivors: a case study

Dorothy Kessler12*, Mary Egan12 and Lucy-Ann Kubina1

Author Affiliations

1 Bruyère Research Institute, 43 Bruyère St, Ottawa, ON K1N 5C8, Canada

2 School of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth Rd, Ottawa, ON K1H 8M5, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:256  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-256

Published: 16 June 2014

Abstract

Background

Innovative and sustainable programs are required to support the well-being of stroke survivors. Peer support is a potentially low cost way to enhance well-being of recent stroke survivors and the well-being and community reintegration of their peer supporters. This article describes the perceptions of stroke survivors, care partners, peer supporters, and professionals of an individual peer support program.

Methods

An instrumental case study design was used to examine a volunteer peer support program that provides acute care visits and telephone follow-up post-discharge. In particular, a) type of support provided, b) benefits for the stroke survivor and care partner, c) potential harms to the stroke survivor, d) impact of providing support on the peer supporter, and e) required processes were considered. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 16 new stroke survivors and 8 care partners immediately following hospital discharge and then 6 months later, and with 7 peer supporters, 3 program co-ordinators and 4 health professionals to gather feedback from multiple stakeholders.

Results

Emotional, affirmational and informational support were perceived as being offered by the peer supporters. Peer visits were perceived as providing encouragement, motivation, validation, and decreased feelings of being alone. However, the visits were not perceived as beneficial to all stroke survivors. The impact on the peer supporters included increased social connections, personal growth, enjoyment, and feelings of making a difference in the lives of others. Involvement of the healthcare team, peer supporter training and a skilled coordinator were crucial to the success this program.

Conclusions

Peer support can potentially enhance service to stroke survivors and promote community reintegration for peer volunteers. Further research is needed to determine the preferred format and timing of peer support, and the characteristics of stroke survivors most likely to benefit.

Keywords:
Stroke; Volunteers; Untrained workers; Social participation; Caregivers