Technology Transforms Dementia Education and Treatment
By Dr. David Sykes, Director, Centre for Dementia Learning, Dementia Australia
Games and virtual reality technologies have allowed Dementia Australia to bring a new understanding to carers, families, policy influencers and politicians about the impacts dementia has on people’s lives.
These technologies have enabled us to effectively deliver programs and services to a wider audience while generating positive change in relation to dementia awareness and dementia care.
Dementia Australia is the national peak body and charity for people, of all ages, living with all forms of dementia, their families and carers.
Dementia is the biggest health challenge of the 21st century. In Australia, there are estimated to be about 436,000 Australians living with dementia. Worldwide, that number is estimated to be close to 50 million, which is expected to increase to 131.5 million by 2050. There is no cure. There are some treatments for some symptoms and there is major international investment in research for treatments which will eventually change the lives of future generations.
However, for those living with dementia now and the estimated 1.46 million Australians involved in the care of someone living with dementia, better support and care is urgently needed – in the home, in the health and aged care sectors and in the community – to make a differences to the lives of all people impacted.
"Through the use of apps, games and virtual reality (VR) we have found new ways of providing support, education, and information"
Through the use of apps, games and virtual reality (VR) we have found new ways of providing support, education, and information.
After 30 years of delivering dementia education in traditional workshopsusing presentations, group discussions, videos and case studies, the team at Dementia Australia felt that more experiential education using virtual reality would give aged care workers a more empathic understanding of dementia.
It developed the Virtual Dementia Experience™ to provide an immersive, interactive virtual reality experience that invades the senses and takes people into the world of a person living with dementia, simulating thoughts, fears and challenges. Delivered in Melbourne, Australia, as a three-hour interactive workshop, it is revolutionising carer understanding, building empathy and inspiring transformational change in approaches to the important and intensely personal job of caring for people living with dementia.
Due to the success and increased demand for the Virtual Dementia Experience™ Workshop, Dementia Australia recognised the need for this kind of education that could be provided anywhere, and developed the Educational Dementia Immersive Experience™ (EDIE). This mobile product can reach carers all over Australia and gives them the opportunity to have the virtual experience of living with dementia.
EDIE™ allows the user to enter a physical world via a head mounted display, using Samsung Gear VR. By allowing the participant to interact with scenarios developed to explore the challenges of living with dementia, it provides an intuitive and engaging experience that benefits family carers, residential, home/community care or retirement living workers.
An independent Swinburne University evaluation found participants gained three times more empathy for a person living with dementia. They identified more dementia-friendly elements and responded from the perspective of a person living with dementia, rather than a carer’s perspective.
Gaming for those Living with Dementia
The Virtual Forest is a screen projected game that provides an immersive sensory experience. It is designed specifically for people living with dementia and aims toimprove their quality of life through the use of gaming technology. The user interacts with the game by gently moving their arms or clapping to initiate interactions with the screen, such as taking a family of ducks for a swim or a change of seasons. The Virtual Forest aims to provide engagement and enjoyment for the person living with dementia. It also acts as a conversation starter for carers. Lifeview Residential Care, our sponsor for The Virtual Forest, won the 2015-16 Leading Age Services Large Provider of the Year Award for its focus on resident wellbeing
We are currently looking for funding to develop different scenarios, such as a beach scene and others.
In recent years, Dementia Australia has used apps to help families and reach a wider audience.
Targeted at family carers, the Dementia-Friendly Home™ app uses 3D gaming technology to enable users to walk through different areas of a home and see what changes could be made to make that area more dementia friendly. The app provides carers with ideas of how to make their home more accessible for a person living with dementia. It is based on 10 dementia enabling environment principles and recommends practical changes that may prompt a carer to think about how their home could be changed in order to assist their loved one living with dementia.
With the success of these various applications of technology Dementia Australia has been recognised with numerous local, national and international awards and continues to explore new ways of using new and emerging technologies to improve the lives of those living with dementia.