Aviva and Steve Cohen and Family
As we continue our weekly blogs to introduce the eight finalists, allow us to introduce you to Aviva Cohen, founder of Neuro Hero.
My name is Aviva Cohen. I’ve been a researcher, lecturer and communications consultant for more than 20 years. I’ve spent even longer practising and teaching karate. I fell in love with Steve, my karate master, many years ago and we have two little girls, aged 12 and 7.
In 2006, Steve had a massive stroke. Since then, I have dedicated myself to finding ways to improve his quality of life and the lives of people with similar challenges.
When Steve finally came home from the rehabilitation hospital after his stroke, the physical challenges were tough but the emotional challenges far more difficult to overcome. While talking to other family carers I realised that there is a set of problems that are common to those who have experienced stroke, brain injury and a range of other conditions. When someone in your family loses any part of their cognition or their ability to communicate, you enter a new landscape which is unfamiliar and frightening.
Steve has many difficulties but the most devastating has been his lack of speech. For years he endured immense frustration because he could not follow a conversation that included two or more people. This was compounded by the fact that friends and family often struggled to know what to say to him and how to react. Eventually Steve made it clear that he wanted to exclude all visitors from our home. As a consequence we all felt the social isolation that he had been experiencing; this is a common outcome for so many families. I was determined to change our circumstances by finding ways to help Steve to rebuild his cognition, his ability to understand and his ability to communicate. For a while we used a range of home based therapies and online support tools but they became prohibitively expensive and they required him to sit alone for hours.
I started thinking of affordable ways to help Steve, and others like him. I knew that it was essential to include an element of interaction with friends and family. I was also determined to find a way to teach other people the skills they need to communicate with someone who has speech and language difficulties so that I, and other family carers, no longer have to act as full time translators.
I formed a business partnership with Catherine Sweeney who embodies a powerful blend of technical knowledge and creativity. She is able to draw upon over 20 years of senior IT management and development experience. We are also joined by an inspired speech and language therapist, Rachel Moore, who came to our home some years ago and helped Steve to reconnect with the outside world.
Our company is called Neuro Hero. We are creating a series of activities (apps), videos and tools that will support rehabilitation, foster social interactions and teach family members key skills. Our activities will be available as apps for iPads and other mobile devices as well as PC’s and our videos and support tools will be available through our website: www.neurohero.com
Our first Therapeutic Activity is called ‘Match It’. Each player has to match items on the bottom of the screen to a target at the top of the screen. As you progress you are presented with additional challenges constructed by therapists for maximum benefit. When two people play together each one is challenged at their own level, to win you must beat your own previous score. All of our Therapeutic Activities are designed by therapists who ensure that there they include the potential to help both rehabilitation and socialisation. Match It should be available through the App Store in November at a cost of €2.
We are also developing a suite of Communications Activities that can teach friends and family key skills while they have fun interacting with their loved one. For example, ‘Talk Around it’ helps people with word finding difficulties to name objects by suggesting a series of questions that therapists typically use during a session. In addition, we are producing a range of three minute training videos for families living with a cognitive or speech and language difficulty. Each video will illustrate a common mistake such as having too much background noise when trying to communicate; it will then show you a simple solution and reinforce the key points. These videos will be available for phones, tablets and PCs at a cost of approximately €2. We are also working on a set of support tools for family carers that will be available free of charge, these include a social network and an online magazine.
Neuro Hero was born from my desire to address the challenges facing my family and around 266,000 families in Ireland alone. It began as a wish, evolved into a hope and is now on the verge of becoming a reality. The support and funding we are receiving form organisations like Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has made all the difference. We have learned from experts and wonderful mentors, we have been inspired by incredible alumni and we are receiving resources that will enable us to build our vision. Without their help it would have taken years to have come this far, if it happened at all. With their help we can make a real difference, we can help families to rebuild their relationships and we can help people living with life changing conditions to find a way back into a world that so often leaves them behind.
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