Dementia experienced firsthand through VR

The technology exposes aged care home leaders to common symptoms of dementia.

A new training program targeting leaders and supervisors in aged care facilities uses virtual reality technology to help participants better understand the lived experience of dementia.

Using immersive VR headsets, the program developed by Dementia Training Australia exposes participants to common symptoms of dementia, such as impaired vision, impaired hearing, and balance issues.

“So the VR experience is giving them the opportunity to be on the other side of a care interaction with a staff member,” said Dr Isabelle Meyer – executive director of DTA.

Dr Meyer told Australian Ageing Agenda the VR component of the program is carefully monitored. “It can be a very confronting experience for people to walk down a hallway where’s there’s a busy patterned carpet that would make them feel like they were seasick and that they had no balance. They would have their vision such that they had very little depth perception.”

The VR experience has a very strong impact on people and profoundly shapes the way they think about the care they’re giving and the kinds of communication they use, said Dr Meyer.

Dr Isabelle Meyer

“I’ve done the training myself and it is really disorienting and it has certainly changed all of my ideas about what was an appropriate conversational exchange with someone with dementia and what did I need to have in the environment to make it dementia friendly.”

The government-funded training initiative – called the Dementia Knowledge in Action program – is designed specifically for managers working in aged care facilities.

“It is certainly distinctive in that the focus is on leaders and decision makers in the sector,” said Dr Meyer. “It’s designed to build not only their knowledge and skills base in managing the behaviours of people with dementia but it is also designed to support them to improve dementia care in their facilities. And so it provides a lot of support for them to develop decision-making skills, awareness and to then pass that onto their staff.”

As well as the VR element, the four-month training program also consists of online modules and practical workshops. “Part of the program is designed around [participants] actually working through processes, setting up and conducting an innovation project in their facilities and mentoring and coaching over the life of the program,” said Dr Meyer.

The program was piloted on the Gold Coast and in Maroochydore, Queensland last week with another pilot held in Melbourne on Monday. “The pilots have gone extremely well so far,” said Dr Meyer.

Dementia Training Australia has now commissioned an independent evaluation of the pilots and is expecting results of that review mid-year. Depending on the adjustments made to the curriculum and the program’s structure, DTA expects to roll out the program Australia-wide in the second half of the year.

Dr Meyer encourages aged care managers to take part in the program. She told AAA that – in the dementia training space – there is very little to support leaders in the residential sector. “Most of the dementia training is very focused on developing particular skills around pain management, sleep management,” she said.

“This takes it to another level. This is really about how do you situate care, what is your context for what you’re delivering, how are you going to put in place a learning culture and a culture of continuous improvement in your residential aged care facility.”

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Tags: dementia training australia, Dr Isabelle Meyer,

1 thought on “Dementia experienced firsthand through VR

  1. This would be an excellent experience for all OT’s who complete home modifications for clients with dementia

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