Enriching lives through physical activity

Enrich supports people with neurological conditions on campus. Courtesy of Discourse Magazine

U of R’s Enrich neurological rehabilitation program

This past September, the University of Regina launched Enrich, a neurological rehabilitation program for individuals who are dealing with some type of neurological condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, a recent stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, or some type of traumatic brain injury. Although Enrich launched six months ago, it has already had a significant impact on its participants, providing them with greater confidence, independence, comradery, an increased quality of life, as well as a major reduction in the challenges and frustrations previously experienced with everyday activities.

According to U of R Kinesiology and Health professor and founder of Enrich, Dr. Cameron Mang, motivation for this type of program not only came from his previous volunteer experience, but was also something that he had wanted to establish for quite some time.

As an undergraduate volunteer at the Steadward Center, an exercise centre for people with disabilities at the University of Alberta, Dr. Mang became aware of the unfortunate reality concerning the lack of available health care for people with a neurological condition. Frequently, he says, “when people are diagnosed with a neurological condition … they [only] receive a few months of rehab and rehabilitation before going back home to live in the community. At this point, people still have a lot of potential to continue to make improvements in the long-term, but often don’t have access to specialized programs to help them.”

Through his time at the Steadward Center, Dr. Mang says he was “really struck by how much people appreciated having a place to exercise that could [both] accommodate … and allow them to continue their rehabilitation journey.” As a result of this realization, Dr. Mang became motivated to establish a similar type of neurological exercise program after coming to Regina

In order to establish Enrich, Dr. Mang received a lot of help and support from both the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health studies, as well as the staff of the Dr. Paul Schwann Health Centre. As Dr. Mang says, he “had a vision, and the Dr. Paul Schwann Health Centre staff helped … shape it into something that could be done, [by determining] how the program would be offered and what all the logistics [would] be.”

Enrich takes place twice a week on Monday and Wednesday afternoons at the Dr. Paul Schwann Health Centre, from 1:30 to 3 p.m., though the centre is currently closed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic Individuals focus on respiratory fitness, strength training, flexibility, balance, coordination and task-oriented and movement activities. As Dr. Mang explained, ‘task orientated’ refers to tasks done in daily activities, such as walking or handwriting, which become difficult because of an individual’s neurological condition. Participants are asked about “any everyday activities that they struggle with, and then [they are able] to develop strategies to practise and improve.”

Even though it may seem tedious and redundant to repeatedly practice these types of task-oriented movements, it does lead to improvement. This improvement demonstrates Dr. Mang’s goal for the program, which is “to improve the quality of life of our participants. Challenges with everyday life or everyday activities that were previously easy, “but have now become difficult because of a neurological condition can be very frustrating. We hope that these activities make things a little easier and elevate some … frustrations.” Additionally, it is this improvement which makes “every day of the program … rewarding. Seeing clients make improvements in their exercise and support each other is a lot of fun.”

Although Enrich is set up as a group program, it still effectively meets the need of all its participants, because of programming being specific. Before starting, individuals are assessed by an instructor in order to develop their own personalized routine. Dr, Mang explained that this program is written up and placed in a duotang. At the start of each session, clients come in, find their duotang and their volunteer buddy and get started [on the activities ]outlined in their specific program. “Instructors oversee and check in to change, progress and refine client exercises.”

At the same time, there is a significant social aspect embodied into this program, according to Mang.

“We focus on the physical improvements that people make. Everyone is rooting for each other.”

Currently, there are thirty-nine individuals involved with Enrich, including sixteen participants, two instructors, one fieldwork student, and a team of approximately twenty volunteers. According to Dr.  Mang, students are strongly encouraged to volunteer with Enrich because they are essential for this type of program to be successful.

“[Enrich] would not be what it is without student volunteers.”

As volunteers, students “are paired off [with a] client” and have the opportunity “to work one-on-one with [that individual] assist[ing] them in performing exercise prescribed by the instructors.” While there are no specific requirements to volunteer with Enrich, Dr. Mang does suggest that “a background in exercise and physiology [would] certainly [be] useful.”

Initially word about Enrich was spread by dispersing flyers, but community interest in the program continues to increase. As a result of this growing interest towards Enrich, Dr. Mang would definitely like to expand the program for its second year and has some ideas regarding what he would like to implement. These ideas include, “a second offering, … adding a recreational component … developing targeted programs for specific neurological conditions, such as an MS program, [or] an acquired brain injury program and continuing to integrate the program with more research in Kinesiology and across the university.

“If you have a neurological condition, chances are this program is for you! We are always happy to have more people involved.”

Anyone who is interested in participating in Enrich should get a referral from their doctor and then contact the U of R’s Dr. Paul Schwann Health Centre at 306-585-4004. Students who are interested in volunteer opportunities, please contact Dr. Mang at cameron.mang@uregina.ca .

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