Shawn McCreight was paralyzed from the neck down after a stroke at age 39. It took him almost a year to regain limited movement in his arms and legs.
Now 56, Shawn has never stopped trying to regain more movement after his 2002 stroke. That effort has seen the left side of his body gain strength, but there was only limited change on his right side. What he didn’t expect was how much improvement he’d see from participating in a tai chi class offered to residents at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
“I’m able to grasp things with my right hand. Before the tai chi, I had to look at my right side in order to hold things,” says Shawn. I’ve learned not to have to look.”
Taking the class for the past year, Shawn has noticed improvements to his body. After just three months he could hold and throw a stick into the air during a tai chi movement. It was unexpected because he’d taken another tai chi class at the Edmonton General and has been practising this Chinese form of exercise on and off for the last 15 years.
Volunteer instructor Ken Chui says the weekly class is adapted to meet the needs of the students, and with practice, they grow their skills and strength.
“We just come here and give some energy and help them to try,” says Ken. “Every resident has different problems. I just want to give some ways to exercise and help them with their ability and their confidence.”
Ken is joined by fellow volunteer instructor King Kan as they work with about 12 residents, most of whom come from the care centre’s Ming Ai unit, which offers culturally specific recreation programs and food to its Chinese residents.
Recreation Therapist Pollyanna Kwong says she wanted a tai chi class for the residents because of its therapeutic and quality of life benefits. Research shows tai chi lessons lessen pain, fatigue and depression symptoms. Offered for more than a year, the Friday morning sessions at the Edmonton General also give residents an opportunity to come together and have fun.
“When some of the residents come here, they may not be able to follow all the movement because of the condition level or the physical level. They are still able to laugh. They are still able to interact with other people,” she adds.
For resident Gai Hung Lai, who practises tai chi every day in his room, exercise is his motivation.
“With the exercise, my hands and legs will strengthen. It’s good for my health to practise some movements,” says Gai Hung, 85.
Shawn also practises tai chi daily. He believes his hands will continue to get stronger from his participation. But he also considers the weekly session more than just an exercise class.
“I look forward to every Friday. It’s the one class I really enjoy going to,” he says.