Virtual reality to help dementia carers walk in peoples shoes

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have created an immersive virtual reality experience to improve participants’ understanding of the effects of dementia on people who live with the condition.

The program, Meaningful Spaces, is a novel, virtual reality training resource that allows healthcare workers to walk in the shoes of a person living with dementia and experience some of the challenges they face in their everyday lives.

While the virtual reality scenarios are based in residential care, the principles apply across all care settings.

The team from UWA’s WA Centre for Health and Ageing developed the program through the Dementia Training Australia consortium, an organisation funded by the federal government to provide training for people who care for those living with dementia.

Next month, the team will be facilitating the first statewide rollout of the resource in Western Australia, running interactive workshops in key metropolitan and regional areas.

The workshop has been developed for all healthcare professionals involved in providing care for people living with dementia, including nurses, medical practitioners and allied health workers.

During the workshop, participants will experience how the principles of environmental design and medication management can support people experiencing dementia symptoms, such as changed behaviour and psychological symptoms, enabling them to provide better care.

Dr Andrew Stafford from UWA’s Dementia Training Australia team said the virtual reality program was designed to provide healthcare workers a new level of understanding of the challenges faced by people living with dementia.

“We think that this new resource has the potential to address some of the key issues around providing high quality dementia care,” Dr Stafford said.

“The current Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has highlighted a number of areas where engaging, high quality training experiences can improve the lives of people living with dementia,” Dr Stafford said.

“The Meaningful Spaces experience is profoundly emotive, and participants are more engaged in these workshops than with traditional classroom- type training events. We hope that the dementia care workforce in WA makes the most of the opportunity to experience our workshops next month.”

Ellie Newman the UWA Director of Dementia Training Australia said the workshops empowered participants to rationalise the use of medication in dementia care, and create supportive, more home-like environments.

“Change starts from within and this resource provides participants with the opportunity to experience, first hand, the interaction of medications and the environment for someone living with dementia,” Ms Newman said.

“It will make a difference.”

Workshops will be conducted in Joondalup, Geraldton, Melville and Albany throughout February and can be booked here. Private sessions are available for larger groups.

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