VR allows care leaders to walk in the shoes of clients living with dementia

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Care leader Jade experiencing what people with dementia may see and experience while living with the condition. [Source: Supplied]

Virtual Reality (VR) is once again transforming the way care staff understand the challenges faced by people living with dementia – by literally “seeing” it.

With the help of Dementia Training Australia’s (DTA) new national and free program, leaders in the care space will use VR to learn more and specialise in helping people living with the condition.

The Dementia Knowledge to Action training program aims to transform dementia care leadership in Australia and create a culture of learning in care facilities. 

The program began with three pilot courses which launched last week in Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Maroochydore.

The innovative VR technology in the program provides participants with firsthand experiences of living with dementia, fostering empathy and enhancing their ability to improve care quality.

Designed for leaders and supervisors in care facilities, each pilot consists of 24 participants who undergo intensive training over four months to enhance the necessary skills required in dementia care, practice change, leadership, and changed behaviour. This includes behavioural management, resilience training, and practical experiences using face-to-face workshops, online modules, and immersive VR simulations.

Arcare Maroochydore Lifestyle Coordinator, Kerry Mack, participated in the Maroochydore pilot and said it was “terrific” to learn the mentoring and leadership tools to better share her learning and ideas with her team.

In Ms Mack’s VR experience, she could see the walls and floors were the same colour which made it very hard to make a distinction between the two. There was poor signage, it was hard to distinguish the doors from the walls because they too were all the same colour. The experience demonstrated the importance of good design and the ability to tailor the environment for somebody with dementia.

“It was very real and confronting at times to see how a person with dementia views their environment and how it affects them […] It’s wonderful to be able to walk in the shoes of my residents. It’s so helpful to experience what they’re seeing, hearing, and feeling and constantly update my toolkit to suit what they need.”

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Care leader Rosemary Tawfik. [Source: Supplied]

The course also includes practical projects on how to redesign a living and garden space for clients with dementia and how to manage personal care training for all staff, such as best practices for showering and personal hygiene, behavioural management, de-escalation techniques and resilience training. 

DTA Executive Director Doctor Isabelle Meyer said it is not enough to be a skilled carer or manager – it requires resilience and confidence as well to adapt and adjust to demanding and constantly changing care delivery as the condition progresses.

“Our goal is to empower participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to drive positive change within their organisations, ultimately improving the lives of individuals with dementia,” she said.

“The experience is really the best way to understand how the simple things most of us wouldn’t even think about – like how a brightly patterned carpet might make someone feel off balance; how an all-white bathroom might make it hard for someone to find a light switch or a toilet seat because their depth perception has changed. 

The VR experience is one we use across other courses as well, such as when it was offered to aged care workers in ACT to better educate them on caring for older people with dementia, and it is based on some work led by the University of WA on the effects of medication. 

With a target of training 100 Dementia Guides by June 2025, the Dementia Knowledge to Action program is acknowledged nationwide and graduates receive a certificate of completion.

DTA offers over 100 free courses and training programs. For more information or to see what courses are available, visit the Dementia Training Australia website.

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