From Isolated To Independent: Celebrating National Assisted Living Week

Now in its 21st year, National Assisted Living Week celebrates the lives and achievements of individuals with disabilities, long-term illnesses and injuries. In observance of this year’s theme, “Keep Connected,” we are taking the time to recognize the many ways that technology can be used to increase opportunity and facilitate better care and communication.

National Assisted Living Week 2016

This year’s theme is, “Keep Connected” 

For as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve sought to simplify and improve our lives with the use of technology.

From the earliest stone tools to the first personal computers, our inventions serve as a means to enhance our natural abilities, helping to strengthen our relationships with others and refine our understanding of the world.


A Smarter, More Connected World


Technology has granted us the power to not only improve but extend and save lives. Medical advances have given us greater power to diagnose and treat illnesses than ever before, and now “smart” assistive tech promises to revolutionize the way people suffering from debilitating illness or catastrophic injury live their lives as well.

Fitbit Surge via pcmag.com

The “tech revolution” includes personal trackers like this Fitbit Surge – via pcmag.com

The Internet has long been a means of virtual connection, allowing users to communicate with one another whether across the street or across the world. Now, the Internet is increasingly used to connect us to the world itself. Smart devices – Internet-enabled objects powered by ever-smaller chips and sensors – have begun a revolution in which everything from watches to WiFi thermostats are able to share data with us and with each other. While the obvious appeal is often novelty or convenience, this shift also represents a powerful new way for people with a disability to live richer, more connected and more independent lives.

Vivint smart assistant

A “smart assistant” can help you control multiple features in your home – via vivint.com


Staying Connected


Each year, National Assisted Living Week encourages us to celebrate those who require assisted living and their caregivers, as well as to recognize the unique challenges they face. This year’s theme reminds us how vitally important it is for individuals with chronic diseases or disabilities to stay connected to friends, family and the world around them. Feelings of isolation and helplessness are common, and disability can erect seemingly insurmountable physical and social barriers. Fortunately, that may not be the case for much longer. Technology provides solutions that may allow disabled individuals to live more independent and interconnected lives, leading to improved quality of life and overall well-being.

Suria Nordin Kirby Nordin HelpHOPELive

Kirby repurposed existing tech to make life easier for his wife, our client Suria Nordin


Empowerment through Technology


The steady march of technology continues to remove obstacles that once isolated individuals with disabilities. Where the ability to operate a mouse and keyboard was once a necessity, voice recognition technology now provides easier access to phones, computers and other devices. Artificial intelligence, though still in its early stages, has already given us personal assistants that can handle many routine tasks that were once a source of struggle for many people. Home automation grants the power to remotely control and automatically adjust the local environment, from thermostat settings to interior lighting to door locks and other security features. Wearable technology opens new avenues not only for staying connected but for doctors and health workers to collect important information that may allow them to provide a higher level of personalized care.

Mikki Marshall control4

Mikki Marshall controls her home environment through technology for greater independence – via control4.com


Turning Disability into Ability


“Smart” technologies like home automation, service robotics and the Internet of Things are still in their infancy, but their potential impact is already being felt. The future has never looked brighter for individuals living with chronic illnesses, catastrophic injuries and other disabilities, as these technologies are poised to revolutionize the way they interact with the world, connect with friends and family and manage their health. Providing assistance that allows for more active endeavors and ability to enjoy many of the freedoms others take for granted, technology can provide tremendous support for people with disabilities and those who care for them.

robot assistant spectrumieee.org

Robot assistants could revolutionize home health care and senior care – via spectrum.ieee.org

Mobile technologies may also lead to improved health care and lower medical costs by providing more high-quality data, assisting in the diagnosis and management of health conditions, helping to prevent accidents and keeping patients actively involved and invested in their care.

Vivint text alerts

Integrated assistive tech can eliminate anxieties and open new possibilities

Technology has always had a central role in shaping both the present and the future. As smart products and mobile computing devices become more sophisticated, they will continue transforming the ways in which we interact with both our surroundings and one another. The many obstacles that people with disabilities and debilitating illnesses face won’t disappear overnight, but by keeping – and staying – “connected,” the world is a more welcoming and accessible place for everyone.


This guest post was written and submitted by Beth K, a freelance writer specializing in home automation and technology topics. How will you celebrate National Assisted Living Week?

 

6 People Who Inspire Us With Courage, Strength and Selflessness

Our signature fundraising gala Live It Up! kicks off at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 23, 2016 with a VIP reception for our generous sponsors and this year’s Live It Up! Awardees. Doors for the main event open at 7 p.m. Get your tickets today!

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Each year we honor individuals who have impacted our organization and their communities with their bravery, selflessness and strength with our annual Help, HOPE and Live Awards.


This year’s Help Award goes to…The Zeldathon Team for excellence in fundraising.


In December 2015, a group of avid video game players and live streamers joined forces for a 150-hour “The Legend of Zelda” gaming marathon. Streaming their activities live, the gamers collected donations for HelpHOPELive throughout the course of the marathon. Gamers encouraged donations from viewers at home by initiating “donation trains” and incentives, turning watching gameplay into an interactive and collaborative philanthropic experience.

Zeldathon Hope raised over $250,000 for HelpHOPELive through the generosity of contributors in over 40 countries. The funds raised were used to meaningfully contribute to HelpHOPELive’s mission to support community-based fundraising support for people with unmet medical and related expenses due to cell and organ transplants or catastrophic injuries and illnesses and to provide one-time emergency assistance grants for families facing an immediate financial need due to a medical crisis.

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“We pursued HelpHOPELive because we wanted to work with a charity that could make a direct impact through donations,” explained Zeldathon executive director Matthew Moffit. “We’re creating something more than just a marathon – it’s a real community, dedicated to the forces of good.”

Moffit, Zeldathon assistant director Liz and spokesperson Brooke are among the dedicated gamers who devoted their personal time to planning, managing and streaming the nonstop gaming marathon. They hope to support HelpHOPELive’s mission again during a future Zeldathon.


The HOPE Award goes to…Maria Weaver-Hollowniczky and Elizabeth Casperite for living donation and organ donor awareness.


Liz Casperite was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2005. Her kidneys grew from fist-sized to football-sized. She joined the transplant waiting list in 2013, facing an average wait time of 4 or 5 years.

Liz and her family initiated a social media push to help Liz cut her wait short by finding a living kidney donor. Maria Weaver-Hollowniczky, a friend of a friend, saw Liz’s social media efforts and felt moved to step forward as a potential living donor.

Liz received the gift of life from Maria on September 17, 2015. Liz and Maria became inseparable during transplant preparations and have stood by each other ever since, partnering to share their story and lobby Congress in support of living donor protection legislation. They attended the 2016 Transplant Games in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Fundraising with HelpHOPELive will be an ongoing effort for Liz, who still faces post-transplant medical expenses from co-pays and travel for follow-up appointments to a lifetime of expensive antirejection medications. Liz must maintain Medicare A and B coverage until 2018 to financially protect Maria in case of post-transplant complications—something they hope to change for future living donors through their advocacy of the Living Donor Protection Act.


The Live Award goes to…John Michael LeMoine for inspiration after injury.


In July 2014, John Michael LeMoine was an Air Force airman enrolled in a firefighting technical school. On a day off, John was goofing around on the beach with his buddies. To avoid hitting a child playing on the beach, John jumped into the air to try to flip over him. He kept the child safe but shattered his cervical spine in the process.

It took six weeks of intensive therapy before John could wiggle his big toe.

John devoted himself to exercise-based therapy. Once insurance stopped covering his physical therapy, he turned to HelpHOPELive to fundraise for a lifetime of out-of-pocket medical and related expenses. In March 2015, John was able to stand independently for the first time since his injury.

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John and his mother, Lori, document his progress and his post-injury adventures, including skydiving, off-roading and adaptive sports with support from the Air Force Wounded Warrior program. “He can now make a sandwich,” Lori wrote in February 2016. “It seems so simple, but this was an impossible task before. These small achievements give him his independence back.” John embodies what it takes to build an engaged, motivated and multi-faceted new life after injury.


This year’s awardees will be honored at Valley Forge Military Academy’s Mellon Hall on September 23 from 7 to 11 p.m. among HelpHOPELive’s generous local supporters, board, staff and friends. Join us to celebrate the incredible milestones clients, volunteers and donors achieved in 2016!

How “The Porkanizer” Overcame The Odds To Become A BBQ Legend

Sandy Fulton is not your average event planner. Under the affectionate nickname, “The Porkanizer,” Sandy organizes and grows events with passion and expertise from her lifetime of work in the hospitality industry.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy Fulton, center, is “The Porkanizer”

Sandy is a Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) Contest Organizer and a member of the KCBS Board of Directors. She helps organize KSBC-sanctioned competitions including Philly’s Inaugural Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival, an event on September 10- 11, 2016 at the Devon Horse Show Grounds to benefit HelpHOPELive. We picked her brain about her career beginnings, the accident that changed her life and how to plan a successful BBQ fundraiser.

Fire Up Hope BBQ

Sandy is helping to organize the Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival to benefit HelpHOPELive


Sandy, how did you get your start in the hospitality industry?


More than 25 years ago I was a restaurant owner in Ocean City, Maryland, and after that I worked at the Ocean City Convention Center. I really fell in love with promoting and booking conventions and events at the Center. From there, I spent 15 years in the hotel industry in sales working in promotion and training sales departments for hotels all over the country. I was asked to be the executive director of Tourism for Wicomico County, Maryland.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

“This job was my destiny,” said Sandy

That job was my destiny. I began to use all of my experience in sales, promotions, food and beverage, and marketing to promote our county. I contacted KCBS and held my first BBQ festival in Salisbury, Maryland. in 2002. Within 3 years, the event grew to be the largest of its kind this side of the Mississippi. After I retired in 2012, I was asked to promote another BBQ festival. That grew into managing seven events per year.


You had to retire early due to medical challenges. Was that a difficult time for you?


Yes, probably the most difficult time in my life. I fell and broke my hip and arm. It was assumed that in four to six weeks I could go back to work. After a few weeks, the pain in my hip and leg became worse: my hip was out of socket and my pelvis was broken, seemingly during the initial operation. Four more operations to correct the areas had failed. As soon as I stood, my hip fell out and I would be standing on my ankle.

I was finally put in an ambulance by my doctor and taken into a six-hour operation. I was told I probably would never walk again. I was so distraught.

Hospital

Sandy was told by her doctor she would probably never walk again

I spent six weeks in the hospital and six weeks in rehab. I began physical therapy at home and in a nearby facility. I was in a wheelchair, and I was determined not to stay in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was obvious by then that I would not be able to return to work. My job was a very active job and with the pain and limitations, I had no choice but to retire. I cried for days. I loved my job so much. I felt that the job was my destiny, and that I had prepared all my life for that job.

I was given a wonderful retirement party with county and state officials in attendance and many awards and recognitions. That made it hurt even more. I was devastated. I decided to concentrate on walking again. I had to. It took me three years, but I was able to walk with a cane. I am grateful to my family, friends, therapy and, of course, God for believing in me.


Can you tell us a little about the KCBS? Why is its approval important?


KCBS is an organization that promotes the love of BBQ. It is the largest organization of its kind, and it is not only based in the United States. It has become a worldwide organization with contests in Europe, Puerto Rico and other regions.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

KCBS promotes a passion for BBQ through events and engagement

The organization has very strict rules and the judging is done by people who have taken a KCBS Judges class. They judge based on appearance, taste and tenderness.


Why did you decide to specialize in KCBS-sanctioned events?


I made the decision based on my love of creating an event, and the BBQ people that I met and the loyalty they showed me. It is also such a great way to introduce BBQ to new areas.

BBQ

Event planning provides an opportunity “to introduce BBQ to new areas”

KCBS really supports nonprofits. 90% of my events are for nonprofits. The competitors love that element and so do those attending. They get to have fun and help a charity at the same time. When holding a fundraiser, advertising that it is for a charitable cause is very important.


How did your first 2002 KCBS-sanctioned event evolve over time?


Initially, we had three months to put it together and 17 competitors. Each year, we added something new to the event to keep people interested. We eventually had to put a limit on the numbers of competitors, food vendors and craft vendors because we were running out of space! We advertised a great deal and that helped. People started planning for the event months in advance. We added a children’s section and that really helped the event, too.

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy loves to watch her events grow over time


What is your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?


My favorite part is working with the competitors. They have stood by me and encouraged me when I had to retire. When I held my first festival, I walked into their meeting and they gave me a standing ovation. That’s when I knew that everything was going to be alright.

My least favorite part of my job is after the competition and awards (ceremony) when they all leave me!

Sandy Fulton Fire Up Hope

Sandy’s favorite part of event planning is “working with the competitors”


What does the word HOPE mean to you?


The word hope had a different meaning to me before my accident. We all take for granted being able to walk across a room, drive and do day-to-day activities. So I used to use hope in a simple and kind way, “Hope you have a great day,” “Hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “Hope everyone likes the meal I just prepared.”

When you go through a devastating accident and don’t know what you are going to face in the future, the word hope means something different. When you live with a disability, you look at things differently. When I pulled up to a store, I never used to think about whether or not I could make it to the door. Now I have to look where I am walking, monitor the surface and the people near me. Now I think, I hope I can get to the door, I hope I don’t slip, and, sadly enough, I hope people don’t stare at me and look at me differently than they used to.

door

“I hope I can get to the door, I hope I don’t slip, I hope people don’t stare.”

Hope has a new meaning now. I hope I can be the person I used to be and I hope that I do not let a disability stop me from being who I need to be.


Anything else you’d like to share with us?


I am excited to introduce BBQ to Devon! You will see how dedicated people are and how much people love meeting competitors and trying competition BBQ. When a charity like yours is involved, success means even more.


You can learn more about Sandy by contacting her via email. Don’t forget to buy your tickets for the Fire Up Hope BBQ Festival to taste real KCBS-sanctioned BBQ made possible by “the Porkanizer!”

Voices Of Hope: “No Matter What Happens, We Always Love Each Other”

Yusef Harris is a loving father and a longtime community volunteer and youth mentor. Combating health issues since 2004, Yusef needs a kidney transplant to live a long and healthy life. He and his family have turned to HelpHOPELive for fundraising support.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

Yusef is fundraising or a kidney transplant with support from his family

As he copes with the challenges of end-stage renal failure and exhausting dialysis treatments, Yusef draws inspiration from his family to stay positive and keep fighting. We asked daughters NaQari and Miyala about fundraising and sticking together as a family in the face of challenging circumstances.


How is your family helping Yusef to manage fundraising?


Miyala: We help sell shirts and do our best to promote his HelpHOPELive campaign and let others know about it. We have all purchased and worn his #LemonadeLife clothing as well! We started the #LemonadeLife hashtag with our father because, as our dad puts it, “I refuse to let kidney failure end what I know to be a meaningful life.”

NaQari: We also go out with him and educate people about kidney failure and being organ donors using HelpHOPELive brochures and bracelets.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

“When life gives you lemons…”


What are you currently fundraising for to help Yusef?


NaQari: We are currently fundraising to help cover the bills that come with the kidney transplant surgery and the medications he will need to live with a new kidney.


When did you first realize how expensive a transplant could be for your family?


Miyala: When we took time to talk about the transplant process and what we would all have to go through, we learned about the financial commitment.

NaQari: I realized the financial commitment the moment my father began to take precautions and go through all the necessary steps required for him to be a candidate for the transplant surgery. I learned about the cost mostly from my father, and I also learned through research on the Internet and heard about the financial component from people who had received a transplant who posted about it on Facebook. I was told that the anti-rejection medications would be between $200 and $300 per month for the rest of his life.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

Yusef will take on the financial burden of transplant with help from family and friends


Is your community supportive of what your family is going through?


Miyala: Everyone is there for us if we ever need anything. We have people we can count on.

NaQari: Our church family and Facebook community is very supportive. They understand that my father is going through tough circumstances and they do everything they can to help, whether that is donating or sharing my father’s story.

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How do you feel about fundraising with HelpHOPELive?


Miyala: It’s been great. My dad talked to me about working with HelpHOPELive and what is being done to help us is wonderful.

NaQari: I love fundraising with HelpHOPELive! They provide a professional-looking site and help with the work necessary for my father to raise funds.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

NaQari appreciates that HelpHOPELive provides “help with the work necessary for my father to raise funds”


Do you think it can be difficult to stay positive while on the transplant waiting list?


Miyala: I know for a fact it’s difficult. Having to wait is hard. Your whole life depends upon what happens at that point. I just say to him and anyone else, never give up. God has a plan for you.

NaQari: It can be very difficult staying positive while on the waiting list because so much can happen. You can get an at-risk donor or someone who doesn’t match your blood type, and that makes you think more about the possible complications that come with the surgery. My advice is to pray and keep a positive spirit, because if you think positive you will have positive results.


Is it challenging to watch your father cope with a chronic health condition?


Miyala: I know that things are hard but at the same time, you never know exactly what that person is going through or feeling. You want to understand, but sometimes that’s hard. It hurts to see the pain that they go through.

NaQari: My dad had to quit working because of his health. He couldn’t work for long before he experienced pain. My dad has had small bouts of depression and he tries his best to be positive. It affects all of us because we are all so used to seeing that spark in his eye. It is difficult to watch my father cope with his health condition because I can’t experience it or take away the pain that comes with it, nor can I take away all the risks and what-ifs.


What’s the best part about being a member of your family?


Miyala: No matter what we’re going through, we’ve been taught to stick together, and that’s what we do. I always know that my dad and everyone else in my family is there for me.

NaQari: No matter what happens, we always love each other and have fun together.


Tell us a little bit about your dad’s role as a youth mentor in the community.


NaQari: My dad has mentored and become a father figure for many young men in our church community and he has helped them with everything from homework to life lessons. He loves mentoring young people because he wants to help them become wonderful men and keep them from being another statistic in their neighborhoods.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

Yusef’s community is grateful for his work in youth mentoring

It became a part of his life when these individuals were born and came to our church. On a day-to-day basis, he is doing everything he can to better himself. Then he calls or messages the individuals or their guardians or parents to check up on them to see how things are going and if he can help them in any way.


When it comes to your dad’s life, from living gracefully with a chronic condition to volunteering and mentoring at-risk youth, what are you most proud of?


Miyala: I love that my dad took his story and made it into something so positive. He wants everyone to know that life will give you lemons, but all you have to do is make lemonade. It’s never over. I just want my father to know that I am very proud of what he’s done. He has helped mold me into the young lady that I am, and I love him for that.

NaQari: Even when he doesn’t feel good, he finds a way not only to be my father but a father for other children who don’t have one. To me, that is the most selfless thing I can think of, because he provides for those children as well as us.  My dad has found a way to love his wife and two daughters unconditionally while giving the same love to many other kids at the drop of a hat. He takes care of them just like he would take care of us. I love that about my dad.

Yusef Harris HelpHOPELive

Yusef’s family and community are behind him on his transplant journey


To learn more about Yusef, NaQari and Miyala, visit helphopelive.org.  Want to help support transplant families? Make a donation to HelpHOPELive and find out what else you can do to raise awareness and support families facing a medical crisis.  

New Video: Fundraising Changed My Life After A Spinal Cord Injury

In 2007, Jeff Harris was enjoying July 4 on the beach with friends when the unthinkable happened. “We were kicking a soccer ball around on the beach and my buddy kicked the ball in the water,” explained Jeff. As he dove into the water, “I hit right around the top of my head at the right angle, at the right speed, at the right tilt of the universe.”

Jeff broke his neck and became a C6 quadriplegic.

After they dealt with the initial shock and emotional trauma of Jeff’s injury, his family quickly began to realize how expensive life with paralysis would be. “It’s almost hopeless to get insurance companies to provide what these spinal cord injury patients need to have a great life,” said Jeff’s mom, Jan.

Jeff was facing extreme out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays. “Wheelchairs cost tens of thousands of dollars,” said Jeff, and that’s not to mention “medical bills and daily supplies” he would need for the rest of his life. Fundraising with HelpHOPELive changed Jeff’s life. “HelpHOPELive was a life ring for us,” said Jeff’s dad, Steve. “They know what works and they are able to give advice to folks like us who have never done this sort of thing before.”

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With support from their community, Jeff and his family planned an annual fundraiser that incorporated curling, one of Jeff’s biggest passions before his injury. The Curl-a-thon in honor of Jeff will soon enter its tenth year. “For these two days when we hold the Curl-a-thon, I am so humbled,” said dad Steve. “Everyone in Jeff’s sphere was just looking for a way to help him.

We’re proud to present our newest HelpHOPELive video featuring Jeff’s fundraising story. Tell us what you think by Tweeting @HelpHOPELiveOrg!

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive Curl-a-Thon

Fundraising has helped Jeff to pursue independence and mobility

Gamers, Rejoice! New Science Says Video Games Improve Wellness

In 2015, a group of gamers played The Legend of Zelda for 150 hours straight to raise money for our nonprofit. Their efforts made a significant impact in the lives of our clients and their families. While Zeldathon Hope was raising over $250,000 for charity, the marathon was also raising an interesting question: are video games inherently damaging to health and wellness?

Pokemon GO

Are video games helpful or harmful to our health?

Though some interactive games like Pokémon GO may be an exception, don’t video games basically require participants to be sedentary and isolated? As reporter Martha Clement Rochford put it, “The good news for gamers is that science disagrees.” Here are 5 ways that video games can promote physical and psychological wellbeing based on recent scientific research.


Video Games Enhance Our Reaction Times And Precision


Researchers at the University of Rochester recently concluded that playing an action-based video game daily “has a beneficial effect” on players’ brains. Engaging in a stimulating gaming experience for 30 to 40 minutes per day can improve eyesight, reaction times, mental rotation capacity and the player’s ability to move efficiently from one task to the next. Researchers concluded that if games released in the future are planned and developed specifically for people with chronic conditions, they “can help patients with chronic illness, anxiety and pain management” by encouraging healthy cognitive development and greater physical strength and dexterity.

Call of Duty

Action games “generated a moderate helpful effect on the overall cognition”

Other recent studies have corroborated those claims, finding that “action games generated a moderate helpful effect on the overall cognition.” Action games like Call of Duty help to develop “fast and precise responses” and “may produce structural changes in the brain“ by encouraging greater neural plasticity, particularly in young adults whose brains are still developing. Greater neural plasticity means an enhanced ability to learn and remember new information, adapt to change or react quickly to new circumstances and challenges.


Video Games Help Us Study And Fight Cognitive Decline


A trial in the United Kingdom is studying how Parkinson’s disease impacts cognition. The twist? Researchers will be using “a scientifically-designed video game as a non-invasive medical device.” The game will be specialized based on each participant’s unique mental processing and memory storage challenges and will offer “holistic training” to improve memory, processing speed, function and attention.

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New games could be used “as a non-invasive medical device” for cognitive training

For now, the initiative will focus exclusively on testing the potential for video games to improve life for people living with Parkinson’s disease, but the results could influence how medical professionals assess and treat multiple cognitive conditions, including traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and “cognitive deficit caused by cancer.”


Video Games Can Be A Physical Rehabilitation Tool


“When I was at Rusk Rehab at NYU Langone,” explains HelpHOPELive client Nicole Seefeldt, “I saw the hospital-based rehab center using Wii Fit and Wii Sport to rehab certain skills in their patients at all age groups. It inspired me to get one because I saw that patients were not only enjoying it but receiving benefits from it.

Wii

Nicole saw Wii games used as tools for hospital-based rehabilitation

Nicole also believes apps can help encourage people to engage with physical therapy and get in touch with their health in a way that “is a lot more dynamic than just sitting in a chair with weights. Several systems also have brain games which are good to play for cognitive development, too.”


Video Games Have Meaningful Psychological Benefits  


Gaming doesn’t just physically alter and improve your cognitive capacity. According to studies on the psychology of gaming, “gamers can address their fundamental psychological needs through playing games.” As cyberpsychologist Berni Good concluded, gaming can help players to feel competent as they master each level and challenge, which improves their psychological wellbeing. Whether through a multiplayer online game, couch co-op or a little social media gloating, gaming can also help players to “relate to others in a meaningful way” as they collaborate on game challenges and share their experiences with others.

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Personal achievements and co-op play can improve psychological wellbeing

Don’t think these results only apply to massive multiplayer action wars or shoot-‘em-up thrillers. Gaming can also tap into “the idea that we need to be masters of our own destiny,” encouraging players to feel like they are making independent choices that are reflected in real-time changes to the game environment or questlines.

Zeldathon

Moffit (center) believes gaming for good can lead to emotional fulfillment

Combine video games with good deeds, like the Zeldathon Hope team, and you have a recipe for social and emotional fulfillment. “We’re creating something more than just a marathon,” explained Zeldathon founder Matthew Moffit. “We’re a real community, dedicated to forces of good. We like to think that we’re working to defeat the evils of the world through our marathon.”


Video Games Help Us Track And Treat Chronic Symptoms


Microsoft Research in Cambridge is tapping into the Xbox Kinect tactile gaming platform to support people living with multiple sclerosis. The console’s motion sensor system will be integral to new research on the effectiveness of MS treatments and the progression of symptoms. Through Kinect-compatible tests, people with MS will be asked to move or touch certain parts of their body and researchers will use a rating scale to track the strength of MS symptoms that affect mobility.

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The Xbox Kinect has been used to track MS symptoms

A recent study found that cognitive training video games developed by neuroscientists could help people with MS to strengthen their neural connections to promote cognitive wellness. MS can impact the thalamus in the center of the brain, leading to the cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog” experience in people living with the condition.

Study participants “had significant increases in thalamic functional connectivity” after participating. One researcher concluded that “video games can promote brain plasticity and can aid in cognitive rehabilitation” for people experiencing cognitive dysfunction due to MS or other brain-disrupting chronic conditions. Researchers hope to use their findings to add to existing rehabilitation pathways for people with MS.


A Bright Future For Gaming-Based Research And Treatment 


Video game platforms and interfaces continue to evolve year after year, and researchers are chomping at the bit to assess their health and wellness applications. In fact, though virtual reality has just barely reached the consumer market, it is already being used to test and diagnose individuals with cognition and memory challenges. It’s good news across the board for gamers, who now have a tangible way to defend their digital obsessions with legitimate scientific research.

virtual reality gaming

Virtual reality is already being used to diagnose some cognition issues

Think these findings supersede the need for balance and moderation in gaming? “When we think about the effect of video games on the brain, it’s very similar to the effect of wine on health,” explained Dr. Daphne Bavelier in a TED Talk. “There are some very poor uses of wine. There are some very poor uses of video games.” But, as new research proves, “when consumed in reasonable doses,” video games can be a beneficial tool for managing symptoms, improving cognition and building positive psychological foundations.


Are you a gamer living with a chronic condition or disability? We’d love to hear about your experiences with gaming and wellness on Facebook.

5 Unforgettable Facts About Diving And Spinal Cord Injuries

“The only safe dive is the one you never take,” claimed an infographic from Shepherd Center. Is it true that diving puts you at risk? How serious is the connection between diving and spinal cord injuries?

July is the number one month for diving injuries by a wide margin. Here are 5 facts you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.


Fact 1: Diving is the fourth leading cause of paralyzing spinal cord injuries.


According to Shepherd Center, diving makes the list of the top five causes of spinal cord injuries with paralysis. 89% of individuals who get hurt diving are male and 11% are female. Most individuals who are injured are between 20 and 29 years old.

Shepherd Hospital SCI Dive Accidents Poster


Fact 2: There are multiple ways to sustain an injury while diving.


There are multiple ways for a dive to end in injury or paralysis based on the location and structure of the spinal cord. The severity of disability depends on the level of the spinal cord where the damage occurs.

The vertebrae of the spine, separated by intervertebral fibrous discs, protects the nervous system’s spinal cord. It is possible to damage the spinal cord by injuring the vertebrae and discs or by injuring the spinal cord itself. “Severe damage to the cord and nerves emerging from the vertebral column will cause paralysis,” reported WHO.

Neck Injury Under Wave rotational Neck Injury Under Wave Verticle Compression & Hyperflexion

A user forum on Apparelyzed highlighted some of the many ways that diving can lead to a life-altering injury:

“My husband dove into a pool on Labor Day weekend. He is a C4.”

“My spouse dove into a sponge pit. He is now a C5/6.”

“[To me] dives must include anything headfirst, whether it be into lakes, swimming pools, the sea, trampolines or bouncy castles.”

“I made a conscious though foolish decision to launch myself from my patio roof into an above ground pool ten feet away. It was a calculated risk that turned ugly. C5/6 anterior incomplete, with all the bells and whistles.”

“I dove into a surfboard. C7 complete.”

Dumped on the seabed by a huge wave…C4/5 complete.”

“When you swim competitively, you dive into the pool at the shallow end from a racing block. I was goofing around and dove too deep and hit the bottom.”

“I dove off a 70-foot-high cliff and was fine. Then I dove into a shallow area (of water) from about 6 to 7 feet and hit the sand on the bottom, fracturing my spine at C5/6.”


Fact 3: Water can be deceptive, even if you are a good judge of depth.


Many individuals who sustained a spinal cord injury from diving echo the same lament: “I thought I had good perception skills. I thought I could trust myself to stay safe.” The truth is that water often appears to be deeper than it is, which can lead to devastating errors of judgment even for experienced swimmers and divers.

HelpHOPELive diving safety

Even experienced swimmers can misjudge depth

“The physics of what happens is unforgiving, as a diver can enter the water at 15 feet per second. Most of these accidents occur in water that is less than 3 feet deep,” explained Dr. Robert Bohinski in a PSA from Mayfield Clinic. “These accidents [are] completely preventable.


Fact 4: A single dive can alter your life forever.  


In 2014, Dillon Connolly was swimming with friends when he performed a simple dive from one area of the water to another. Storms had created a sandbar beneath the water, and the impact shattered Dillon’s C5-C7 vertebrae. What followed was “the longest year of Dillon’s life,” explained girlfriend Kerry Sheridan. “Immediate surgery, nearly a month of intensive care, three months of intensive physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and lifestyle adaptations.”

Dillon Connolly HelpHOPELive

Dillon shattered his C5-C7 vertebrae while diving

Dillon explained that being an experienced swimmer isn’t enough to protect you from a dive that can severely alter the rest of your life. “I swam my entire life competitively,” he explained. “It even paid for college. I broke my neck diving into a wave where the sandy bottom went from deep to too shallow. I tell everyone I meet who asks what happened to never dive unless you can see the bottom, and to tell their kids and friends, too.”

Dillon Connolly HelpHOPELive

Dillon with his girlfriend, Kerry, and dog, Reef


Cole Sydnor was 16 when a diving accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. “The average person may not understand the extent to which our injuries affect us ‘behind the scenes,” Cole explained in an interview. “Most people…are never exposed to what it takes for [us] to shower, dress, use the restroom, etc. Those are the hardest parts about living with a spinal cord injury.”

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole was 16 when he became paralyzed from the chest down

To add to the physical and emotional challenges, spinal cord injuries can come along with a host of pricey out-of-pocket expenses. “Any medical expenses deemed unnecessary by insurance fall on my family and it becomes their responsibility to make those purchases,” Cole explained. “My elevator, room and bathroom renovation, and truck were all expenses that our community rallied to help fund.”

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole’s community “rallied to help fund” his out-of-pocket needs

Today, Cole and his family are vocal advocates for swimming and diving safety with the No What UR Divin’ N2 campaign. “I’ve been able to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and spread a message about the importance of diving safety to youth in my community,” Cole said.

Cole Sydnor HelpHOPELive

Cole and his family are now diving safety advocates


Jeff Granger Harris broke his neck diving into the ocean in 2007. “He ran in to jump over a wave like me and him had done 20,000 times,” explained Jeff’s brother, Greg. Jeff hit his head “at the right angle, at the right speed, at the right tilt of the universe” and became paralyzed. “Anything you’re used to doing, you can’t do anymore in Jeff’s situation,” noted Greg.

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps Jeff expand his mobility options

Jeff will face lifelong physical and financial challenges because of a split-second dive. “This is the only life that I have and I’m going to make the best of it. HelpHOPELive allows you some of that ability through fundraising,” he said. Fundraising has helped Jeff to bridge the gap between what insurance will cover and what he needs for a fulfilling and engaging life.

Jeff’s incredible story will be highlighted in an upcoming video from HelpHOPELive. Subscribe to our YouTube channel today and be among the first of our followers to see it!

Jeff Harris HelpHOPELive

A new video tells Jeff’s story


Lauren Shevchek had been swimming competitively for over a decade. At age 19, she dove into a pool and fractured three cervical vertebrae. She lost feeling from her chest downward.

Lauren Shevchek HelpHOPELive

Lauren was a competitive swimmer before her diving injury

Lauren worked through months of inpatient rehabilitation to regain some of her independence. She is beginning to recover some feeling beneath her injury site, though she mostly only experiences those sensations as pain. As her mother, Janice, explained, “We have learned to celebrate any sensation, including pain, as a sign that things are reconnecting.”

Lauren and her family speak publicly about the dangers of diving in order to reduce the number of diving-related injuries. Janice explained why she is a vocal advocate for diving safety. “Teens in particular are shocked when I mention that paralysis is not just about walking. It’s about losing your ability to urinate and move your bowels on your own,” Janice said. “Once they begin to understand, they will never forget how devastating the injury is.”

Lauren Shevchek HelpHOPELive

Lauren speaks publicly about the dangers of diving even as an experienced swimmer


Fact 5: You can make a difference.


You have a responsibility to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from preventable diving-related spinal cord injuries. Here are a few things you can do right now:

  1. Educate yourself about safe behaviors and share what you learn with your loved ones.
  2. Always swim with a lifeguard.
  3. Enter water feet first, even if you do not plan to dive.
  4. Don’t dive at all to maximize your chances of preventing injury and paralysis.
  5. Take the Feet First Pledge! Save and share the graphic below or share it via Facebook or Twitter.

HelpHOPELive

“Have the conversations,” urged Janice Shevchek. “Share Lauren’s slogan with kids: ‘If you can’t see through it, don’t dive into it.‘ Never dive headfirst into water you can’t see through, no matter how experienced you are. And don’t ever act on a dare or try risky stunts. The consequences just aren’t worth it.