High-tech program aims to reduce anti-psychotics, increase socialisation

Lifeview Residential Care and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic have launched the Virtual Forest this week following 12 months of testing and refining the sensor therapy application that aims to improve the quality of life of residents with dementia.

Virtual Forest launch
Lifeview resident Hope with employee Tracey interacting with the Virtual Forest at the launch event

Lifeview Residential Care and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic have launched the Virtual Forest this week following 12 months of refining the sensor therapy application that aims to improve the quality of life of residents with dementia.

The Virtual Forest uses video game technology, a Kinect sensor and a large screen to turn the lounge room of an aged care facility into an enchanted space reflecting the sights, sounds and animals of the natural world in different seasons.

It has been designed and developed specifically for people with dementia to provide a calming experience that stimulates the senses and engages participants to interact with the virtual world.

Following positive results on resident’s demeanour, such as reduced agitation in the development trials, the therapy application will be assessed over six months through use in the Sundowning program at Lifeview, which has exclusive access to the application during that period.

The Virtual Forest was launched on Tuesday at Lifeview’s The Willows facility, where CEO Madeline Gall tried out the program for the first time.

“The Virtual Forest was amazing and exciting, yet calming, all at the same time. If I could have this running in my office I would,” Ms Gall told Australian Ageing Agenda.

She said Lifeview was aiming to use the program to reduce the use of anti-psychotic medication and the number of behavioural incidents and increase the number of social interactions. “We have a goal at Lifeview to reduce the reliance on medications for residents with dementia. We will be monitoring that and looking at that pre-and post over that six-month period.”

Alzheimer’s Australia Vic would also continue to measure the effects of the technology on residents as well as continuing to refine the experience over the coming six months.

The gaming technology was developed by Alzheimer’s Australia Vic and its technology partners Opaque Multimedia with the assistance of corporate sponsor Lifeview.

Alzheimer’s Australia Vic CEO Maree McCabe thanked Lifeview for going “above and beyond” in its assistance in bringing this project to fruition. “Lifeview’s partnership and assistance now means this technology is available and will make a difference to the quality of life for people living with dementia,” she said.

Trial outcomes

Residents, families and staff at Lifeview trialled the application for a year, with their ongoing reactions and feedback informing the development of the program.

The trial assessed the resident’s interaction, engagement and change in demeanour, looked at which types of images caused those interactions and how long the impact of the experience lasted, Ms Gall said.

“Overwhelmingly, the findings were that the residents were less agitated. They were more aware, awake and alert. There was a sparkle in their eye,” Ms Gall said.

A scene from the Virtual Forrest
A scene from the Virtual Forrest

The resulting program was quite different to the original prototype and included more colour, was much brighter, and had a lot more animals, which residents responded strongly to, Ms Gall said.

“It has gone from more of a forest scene to waterside serene scene. It is much improved. We are getting much more engagement and interaction from the residents than we were with the initial one,” she said.

The program had also been used for reminiscing and provided opportunities for communication and conversation. While an individual resident, who was usually accompanied by a staff member, engaged with the program alone, Ms Gall said they have found that residents watching get just as much enjoyment out of it and it has a similarly positive impact on staff.

“It has certainly improved their knowledge and their education around dementia and it has improved the relationships between staff and residents.”

Lifeview will offer the Virtual Forest program in each of its facilities on an as-needs basis to assist residents with dementia who become agitated and restless in the afternoon as well as for reminiscence therapy.

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Tags: alzheimers-australia-vic, dementia, Lifeview, Madeline-Gall, maree-mccabe, virtual-forest,

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