Virtual reality app illustrates plight of dementia patients

The VR application was developed by Dementia Australia in 2016 and was the first to use game technology to create the virtual reality world of a person with dementia. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Ominous shadows, amplified sounds and moving patterns on the walls and floor - these are things that people with dementia can experience.

Now people without the condition can learn about the problems dementia sufferers face by using a virtual reality (VR) application.

The Educational Dementia Immersive Experience (Edie), developed by Dementia Australia, is being used in Asia for the first time as part of a three-hour workshop conducted by the Alzheimer's Disease Association to help more healthcare professionals and the public understand dementia.

Participants in the first pilot workshop held on Tuesday (March 19) wore headsets and earphones to enable them to see and hear through the eyes of a man in his early 60s beset by young-onset dementia while being cared for by his wife.

They went through scenarios of finding their way to the toilet in the early hours of the morning before and after improvements for dementia patients were made to the home.

Around 82,000 people aged 60 and above here have dementia, according to the Well-being of the Singapore Elderly (WiSE) study by the Institute of Mental Health conducted in 2015.

"Currently, many people think that dementia is only memory loss and forgetfulness (but) there are other symptoms, such as loss of sensory and visual perception, resulting in them having difficulties identifying objects in familiar environments," said the association's chief executive Jason Foo.

"We hope that this virtual reality platform will present a more effective way to help someone see through the eyes of a person with dementia, reduce the stigma, design and create care environments that are enabling and better support the well-being of persons with dementia."

The VR application, which is also available in Australia and Canada, was developed by Dementia Australia in 2016 and was the first to use game technology to create the virtual reality world of a person with dementia.

Participant Tony Kee, 50, said that the workshop helped him to empathise even more with his 83-year-old mother-in-law who has moderate dementia.

"The workshop helped me to see the world of people with dementia, and understand and empathise with them," said the insurance agent.

"It's not that they want to make life difficult for you - they would do things themselves if they could - but sometimes we as caregivers don't know and think that they're trying to create havoc."

The association hopes that more than 1,000 people will use the application, including staff from hospitals, senior care facilities and the social service sector, as well as educators and architects.

It also plans to develop localised scenarios within three years.

More information on the workshop, which costs $120 per session, will be available on the association's website from next month.

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