Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Leigh Day: Life after a spinal cord injury – what has love got to do with it?

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) commonly rate their quality of life higher than those without disability would anticipate. Feelings of dignity, pride, confidence, hope and joy arising from social interactions can provide them with the firm foundation for a successful life. These positive attitudes are linked to the magnitude and type of support provided by strong partner, family and friend relationships.

This is not to ignore the major impact suffering SCI can have on a relationship.  Studies are mixed as to the long term impact on relationships after one partner suffers a serious injury. Some identify a higher risk of divorce due to the range of emotions both partners go through in adjusting and coping with their new life parameters…. but other studies suggest this may be a short term effect with one study reporting that 80.7% of married people were still married five years after their injury compared to 88.8% in the general population.  Another found no difference in divorce rates. There may even be positive influences on relationships arising from increased time spent together.

So what support can be offered couples to adjust to this life changing situation?

The World Health Organisation in their paper “International perspectives on Spinal Cord Injury” 2013, looked at how countries respond to the needs and rehabilitation of those with SCI and recommended:
  • Provision of appropriate services, both during rehabilitation and for subsequent community living, to help adjustment and improve quality of life.  For example assistive technologies to facilitate self-caring, since self-image is predictive of how they adjust to physical disability.
  • Providing  home and respite care, liberating individuals and reducing stress on relationships.
  • Support  to achieve positive self-esteem through access to counselling.
  • Support to partners to develop peer networks and access self-help organisations to share experiences. Marriage guidance including information and advice about intimate relationships and respite care.
  • Help to access sporting, religious, cultural, and leisure opportunities as participation can increase self-confidence and well-being.
  • Support development of a personal assistant (or ‘buddy’) i.e. human assistance not restricted to hours worked or range of tasks performed but under the individual’s control.  

In a close relationship, where there may be reluctance to introduce outside help, a risk arises of a relationship turning from loving partnership to a carer / patient relationship and overcoming that hurdle can be key to providing both mutual independence and time together.

As a firm, we support and encourage the above recommendations recognising the importance of our clients’ emotional rehabilitation.  The provision of care and assistance can be the key to a legal claim, not least one of the more costly areas of life to manage.  Accordingly, we try and identify at an early stage, all areas in which our clients are likely to need support and assistance and how that can be delivered.  That may be by putting clients in touch with support groups to help build peer networks, helping access sports or other leisure activities or building care packages with paid assistance in the form of a personal assistant or a ‘buddy’, to help give maximum independence in the home and community thereby alleviating some of the pressure on relationships. 

Alex Lush, Solicitor - Leigh Day
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