Back in 2003 I was 34, engaged to be married to Joanne, and working for Europe’s largest communication company on online interactive projects for companies ranging from Microsoft to Disney. Things were good. Little did I know that “good” can vanish in a heartbeat.
The call that changed everything came one Tuesday. My Dad rang, not for the usual chat, but to tell me that my mum, Margaret, then just 58 years old, had been diagnosed with early onset Lewy Body Disease – an aggressive form of dementia. Her symptoms, we were soon to discover, proved to combine the worst of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
A few months later came a second blow. My 38-year-old sister-in-law, having traced her estranged father discovered that he’d died of Huntington’s disease at an early age. As Huntingdon’s is a genetic condition that leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems, she and her sister decided to be tested for it. They knew that they had a 50-50 chance of carrying the gene. Sadly, my sister-in-law tested positive.
Once again our family was plunged into despair and confusion. Where could we turn? What could we do to help these wonderful women? Things seemed bleak and for a while I lost hope.
As time passed we, like all families in this situation, learned to cope. We saw the best and the worst of the health service – the care and compassion of the staff contrasting cruelly with the lack of long-term support available. We learnt that family members are the ones to plug this gap – my father and brother-in-law leaving their careers behind to become unpaid carers for their wives. We also made the painful discovery that degenerative mental conditions don’t just change the life of the sufferer – they affect everyone around them.
I was in awe of what my Father and brother were doing and wanted to help them. But what could someone with a background in website development do? I was hardly likely to find a cure for these cruel conditions. I wanted to use the skills I had to make a difference – I just needed to work out how to do it.
In 2005 Jo (now my wife) and I sold our London home and moved to Edinburgh – where we’d met almost a decade before. I got involved with a small business that was selling software designed to help people with speech and language issues. Issues like the ones my mum and sister-in-law were battling with.
The key project I got involved in was the development of a new set of interactive exercises designed for people who were suffering from aphasia due to a stroke or head injury, people with learning difficulties, and – most powerfully for me – those suffering from dementia and other neurological conditions. This was the early development of react2 – and the chance to use my skills to make a real difference.
Over the next few years I worked closely with Speech and Language Therapists from NHS Borders to develop the exercises. I used the skills I’d once used to promote Hollywood movies to design, structure and programme what was to be the content of an early CDROM version of the programme.
I knew that the internet was the quickest, easiest and most effective way of getting react2 to as many people as possible, so as we developed the programme, I developed ways to migrate it online. In 2012 react2.com became a reality, allowing patients and their families to work together at a time and pace that suits them, and allowing therapists to support their patients remotely.
Working on react2.com has taught me a lot. I’ve learnt that over 3 million people in the UK – that’s about 6% of the population – need speech and language therapy. I learnt that my family weren’t alone – others had experienced similar problems, a fact I found both comforting and scary in equal measure. Most encouragingly I’ve discovered that not all brain conditions are degenerative – those with aphasia, for example, can make positive progress – and that the right exercises can help make this happen.
My vision is that react2 will use computer technologies to develop a whole suite of tools for both clinicians and patients to better manage people’s communication journeys. This will involve additional therapy and support that currently cannot be offered because of budget restrictions. We are striving every day to deliver real hope and support to people like my Mum and Susan. We can’t turn back the clock, but we are now changing the future for the better. React2 has given me hope – perhaps it can do the same for others.
react2.com online speech therapy software has been of benefit to adults and children with speech learning difficulties. This may be as a result of aphasia after stroke, brain injury or head trauma or autism - whatever the reason, we have seen the positive transformation our speech therapy activities have made on many people's lives.
If you have a question regarding your specific speech therapy issue, or to arrange a full clinical evaluation of react2.com, please don’t hesitate to contact us using the form below. We look forward to being of help.