Mobile Technology Aides for Memory Loss

A roofer by trade, Sean Powers worked 15 years installing commercial roofs and eight years as an independent contractor on residential roofs.  In 2006, an accident at a construction site in Florida changed his world forever.  Sean was struck in the head and fell from a beam 15 feet in the air.  He broke many bones in the fall and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI).  His recovery included two-and-a-half months in the hospital and another month in a rehabilitation facility.

Nine years later, Sean still has trouble talking about that day and the long journey that has been his recovery. “I am alive.  I am so thankful for that,” says Sean.  Physically, his body has healed. But learning to live with his brain injury has been a big adjustment.  Following his fall, Sean has trouble retaining and processing information.

So grateful to be alive, Sean said he felt a need to give back; he sought to join the ranks of the men and women who cared for him when he was hospitalized.  He enrolled in the nursing program at Cumberland County College. But Sean found he could not retain what he learned.  He said he would study the material and know it but the next day the information would be gone.

“Before my accident, I was gifted with a good memory and I didn’t realize what a gift it was,” Sean said, shaking his head. “I owned my own business and I would start my day making a list of the things I needed to do. My thoughts were very linear.  I could plot things out A to Z.   Today, my brain doesn’t process things the way it used to. I can’t extrapolate. My mind bounces from A to G to C; things don’t connect.”

Sean enlisted the services of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) to retool for a new career.  Currently, Sean is studying political science at Stockton University in Galloway, N.J.  To ensure his success in school, his DVRS case manager recommended an assistive technology evaluation.   Sean worked with Assistive Technology Specialist Kristen Russell to find tools to help him work around the issues he has with his memory. 

After an evaluation, Kristen recommended several tools, including a laptop with Microsoft Office applications, a Livescribe pen, and an iTouch. Once the DVRS purchased these tools for Sean, Kristen provided training.  “Kristen was amazing. She showed me how to use everything. She trained me on all the software and answered all of my questions, even the ones I emailed her after my training was over.  I had a lot of questions.”

Sean uses an iTouch to keep his calendar, make notes and send emails. He also uses the iTouch to view little videos that show him how to add an appointment to his calendar, make a reminder, or send an email. “I know how to send an email.  I’ve done it hundreds of times, but I can look at my iTouch and have no idea how to start. It’s frustrating. So Kristen made me little a video that takes me step-by-step through the process of sending an email.  She made a bunch of them for all of the things I do on my iTouch.  And she made some for things I do with my laptop, like connecting to Wi-Fi.”

Sean has about 20 videos on his device that he can view anytime he needs help.  “I used to have Post-It notes all over everywhere.  This thing,” he said tapping his iTouch to his chest, “is a lifesaver for me. It’s got a 32G memory, which is a lot of space. And I constantly back-up what’s on here.  I have a video to show me how to do a back-up too,” he said chuckling.

 “The Livescribe pen is amazing,” he said. “I use it for taking notes in class.”  The pen records the audio of the class as Sean takes notes on special paper.  Later, when Sean is reviewing his notes, he can touch the pen to a point in his notebook and the pen will play the audio of what was being said as he made that note. “This way, I don’t have to listen to the whole lecture over again, I can just go to the parts I need.” He can also upload the notes to his computer.

Sean said he is feeling pretty optimistic about the future.  “I am finding life with a brain injury is about learning to adapt and adjust.  The tools I have to work with now are really helping me.

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