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The pioneering stroke therapy that is “better than four months of medicine”

SR Times speaks with InterAct Stroke Support chief executive Nirjay Mahindru on the services they offer.

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InterAct Stroke Support offers a pioneering type of therapy for stroke survivors. We spoke with its chief executive Nirjay Mahindru on the services it offers.

SRT: “With InterAct being such a pioneering service for stroke patients, what was the inspiration behind the founding of InterAct?”

NM: “InterAct was founded by the theatre director Caroline Smith. Whilst her brother, who was a Doctor was ill, Caroline would often read to him, and the idea of reading to ill people was born. 

“Caroline initially started taking professional actors into a hospice and it was the professionals at the hospice that suggested that the best group of people the reading service might be tailored for were stroke survivors. 

“It also represented an opportunity for professional actors to continue to use their unique skills set in between acting jobs.”

“What does InterAct do for stroke survivors?”

NM: “We use professional actors to deliver live readings at hospitals and stroke clubs. We also promote creative community projects via a series of weekly workshops, and we provide a virtual reading service both for individuals and groups using Zoom, and the good old-fashioned telephone. 

“We read in 19 hospitals and 35 stroke clubs nationally.

“We also have our own podcast called Right Side of The Brain, where we interview people once a month. These are usually stroke survivors or hospital professionals in the field of stroke, other health related charities, but sometimes we interview guests not necessarily related to stroke at all!”

“How does this help stroke survivors?”

NM: “Our work alleviates the depression so often associated with stroke, curtails some of the loneliness of many stroke patients, it also stimulates memory and language. 

“One of the most common feedbacks we’ve received from occupational and speech therapists is that patients are far more likely to engage with them and other hospital interventions after having our service. 

“Many speech therapists in the hospitals we serve will suggest patients they feel will benefit from having our service. Our work also provides a brief respite for friends and family visiting their loved ones.”

“What does a typical session entail?”

NM: “Our hospital sessions are two hours. An actor arrives on the ward and will read to a stroke survivor by their bedside one to one. The actor will determine what material is best suited to the patient in front of them. 

“This information will be garnered by conversation with the patient, and also previous notes made by actors that have read on the ward. It’s especially important that what is read to the patient is material of interest to that patient. 

“There’s no point an actor simply sitting down, introducing themselves and then delivering a Shakespeare speech if the patient has no interest in Shakespeare but prefers football instead. So our actors are armed with a plethora of reading material in book manual form, plus of course these days they can also access relevant material via their phones.

“An actor will usually interact with a patient for about 20 minutes or so before moving onto the next patient. Thus, over a two-hour time frame, an InterAct reader will read to about 6 or 7 stroke survivors. 

“The actors use some of the two hours to fill in our paperwork, logging what was read to each patient and logging what the patient’s mood was, before and after the reading. So they might log that Mr Smith was tired before the session and alert and chatty after the session for example.”

“Where are InterAct’s services available?”

NM: “We read in 19 hospitals nationally. Regionally these are Moseley Hospital Birmingham, Southmead in Bristol, Royal Sussex Brighton, Princess Royal Haywards Heath, Trafford Manchester, Freeman Hospital Newcastle, Llandough Hospital Cardiff, Queen Elizabeth University Glasgow.

“Our London hospitals are Chelsea and Westminster, St Thomas’, Kings, Edgware, St Pancras, West Middlesex, National, Royal London, Homerton, Charing Cross and Clayponds.”

InterAct also offer a home service, InterAct Home, which you can book here.

“What is InterAct at Home?” 

NM: “InterAct at Home is our virtual reading service delivered using Zoom or the good old-fashioned telephone. It was developed during the first national lockdown and we’ve decided to keep it as it serves any stroke survivor anywhere in the UK.”

“For InterAct at Home, an individual session lasts 30 minutes and the various interests and hobbies of the stroke patient are logged as part of the booking process. 

“This then gives the actor that delivers the virtual service, the details required to source the most relevant material to read to the patient before the session. So InterAct at Home is the virtual version of the hospital work we deliver.

“InterAct at Home is free for up to two sessions per week. After that, additional sessions are charged at £15 for an individual session, £30 for a group session. InterAct at Home Group sessions last up to one hour.”

“What feedback has InterAct had from stroke survivors?”

NM: “We’ve received so much feedback over the years from both hospital staff and stroke survivors themselves. Favourite quotes from stroke survivors include “This is good food for the brain”, and “This is better than four months of medicine”. 

From hospital professionals, an example would be Professor Anthony Rudd, former UK lead stroke clinician who saw our work at St Thomas’ over many years. 

He said: ‘The InterAct service at St Thomas’; over many years has had a huge impact on many of my patients. I have seen people who have been severely disabled by their strokes, who have often spent many weeks in hospital, confined to a bed or chair, often with problems communicating looking more cheerful and starting to become much more engaged with their treatment after visits from the InterAct actors. 

‘The skill they have in communication, their obvious humanity and sensitivity in dealing with the patients is really remarkable. I hope that in due course the benefits of the InterAct service become recognised as being an essential component of a stroke service.’

“We’re almost at the end of the year, what does 2023 have in store for InterAct?”

NM: “We are aiming to expand the number of reading sessions we do in our hospitals and also hope to expand to Northern Ireland, to become a truly United Kingdom charity. We are also looking to expand our community projects which encourage the creativity of stroke survivors themselves, facilitated by our actors. We hope to source or be part of clinical research into our work so that we can move away from anecdotal evidence regarding the benefits of the reading service.”

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