Educating aged care workers on dementia care with VR immersion

Over half of Goodwin Home’s residents live with cognitive impairment, so it is vital for care staff to understand their lived experience. [Source: Dementia Australia]

New technology inspired by Virtual Reality (VR) and gaming is being offered to aged care workers in ACT to better educate them on caring for older people with dementia. 

As part of a partnership with peak body Dementia Australia and the Goodwin House aged care facility in Canberra, care staff have been given access to the specialist VR training tool called the Educational Dementia Immersive Experience (EDIE) which is based on 20 different people’s lived experience with dementia.

How does it work?

The learner uses a VR headset and enters the world of the person living with dementia for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Staff begin the educational gaming experience as the character Edie and are tasked with navigating the path from his bedroom to the bathroom at night time.

Staff visually experience the often confronting symptoms those with dementia have including a narrow field of view and wallpaper and carpet patterns that move. In this scenario, floor patterns eventually morph into scrambling cockroaches under Edie’s feet – much like real visual hallucinations experienced by those with dementia.

As Edie, staff see his heart rate and breathing speed grow and in the disorientated situation, you as Edie end up urinating in a laundry basket, mistaking it for the toilet.

Witness the visuals for yourself in this EDIE introduction video. 

The second virtual reality scenario situates Edie in a more dementia-friendly care and home environment where his partner is being more verbally supportive and clutter and decorative patterns have been removed from the interior.

In this scene, contrasting colours, written labels and lighting have been added to define spaces more clearly, allowing Edie to navigate the home at night and correctly locate and identify the toilet.

Instilling more empathy in care staff

Goodwin’s Residential Care’s Deputy Director of Nursing Elina Shrestha told ABC News the training was very “eye-opening” for her and that understanding the lived experiences of residents with dementia is crucial to giving them proper care. 

The push for more education and training for aged care workers has escalated after the tragic death of dementia resident Clare Nowland in May who was experiencing symptoms of her condition when she was Tasered by police and fatally fell and hit her head. 

Dementia Australia is continuing to lobby the Federal Government to increase funding for all dementia care education for the more than 1 million aged care workers, including workshops that use technologies like EDIE.

Find out more at the Dementia Australia website here

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