Photo courtesy of Parkland Medical

There’s an adage that life isn’t all fun and games. And for those critically injured in a near-fatal car crash or suffered debilitating effects of a stroke often the last thing on their mind is a game of cards or dominoes. But that may be just what the doctor ordered.

While playing games usually doesn’t enter the conversation when discussing the healing process with health care providers, it does in fact, have an important role when it comes to a person getting back into some semblance of normalcy after an illness or injury.

That’s when a relatively new program at Parkland Memorial Hospital comes into play – literally.

“When most people think of therapy they mention physical therapy for mobility, occupational therapy for things like taking a shower, and speech therapy for talking,” said Joanna Brown, MBA, MS, CCC-SLP, director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Parkland. “But recreational therapy helps individuals regain some of the ability to do the things that brought them joy before their accident or illness.”

Which is when Meredith Brown, CRTS, and Hannah Smith, CTRS, come in.

As Parkland’s two recreational therapists, Brown and Smith first get to know their patients by asking what they used to do for fun and what sort of hobbies they had.

“Based on their response we’ll develop a personalized plan that will work for their condition,” Meredith said, noting there is an adaptive model for nearly any sport and activities can be altered for each individual.

An inflated balloon can easily be used as a volleyball to help with hand-eye coordination. A game of bingo can aid in several areas – speech (by calling out numbers), visual deficits (the need to scan the card) and physical therapy (marking off the numbers).

“Many of our patients don’t think of time with us as ‘therapy,’ they think of it as play time and wonder how it’s going to help them,” Hannah said. “But through the goals we set together, they soon realize that what we’re doing is actually helping them.”

“I like to call it ‘sneaky’ therapy,” Meredith said, smiling at her words. “What we’re doing is making a deep connection with our patients when they’re at a vulnerable position in their life and getting them back to doing things that bring them joy.”

That joy can be manifested in simple pleasures especially during the summer months. And nothing says summer like a friendly game of dominoes. That is unless a stroke has robbed an individual of the use of their right arm.

“But we look at it this way – they’ve told us they like a good game of dominoes and their left side still works. How can they compensate and get back in front of the board?” Joanna added.

Aside from one-on-one therapy, Meredith and Hannah also meet with behavioral health patients in group settings. Once patients are evaluated for their individual needs, patients are brought together for activities that help calm emotions such as coloring. The group setting is a way to help keep patients from feeling isolated and agitated while allowing them to interact with others in a social setting.

“Our goal is to help patients explore leisure options that bring joy and improves their quality of life,” Meredith and Hannah added. “And we’re having fun with them making it happen.”

To support Parkland Recreational Therapy, please visit

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