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How VR is changing our perception of dementia

The numbers are frightening. In Australia, an estimated 1.2 million people are involved in the care of people with dementia, and more than 358,000 people live with the disease. With an ageing population, this number is expected to increase to 400,000 within five years.

Caring for someone with dementia is a challenge. It can be emotionally and physically draining on a daily basis, especially as it’s difficult to understand how the disease affects the sufferers’ perception of the world.

How virtual reality can help

In an exciting development, researchers from Deakin University’s Software and Technology Innovation Laboratory (DSTIL) and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic have developed EDIE – Education Dementia Immersive Experience, an app and accompanying VR experience that will allow carers to gain a unique insight into what it’s like to live with dementia, with the goal of improving the care that dementia patients receive.

DSTIL Director, Professor Kon Mouzakis says many people are unaware of the broad range of cognitive changes that may be experienced by someone with dementia. These changes have an effect on memory, mood, planning and problem solving abilities.

For example, people with dementia may have difficulty perceiving surfaces that contain repetitive patterns. These can appear to be moving or have insects walking across them, which can be extremely disorienting and frightening.

This new immersive experience uses an innovative method to replicate and raise awareness of these symptoms, as well as passively highlighting how changes around the home can significantly improve quality of life.

'Many people are unaware of the broad range of cognitive changes that may be experienced by someone with dementia.'

Prof Kon Mouzakis,
Deakin Software and Technology Innovation Laboratory

Breaking barriers

’The app has broken new ground, particularly as the target audience is typically not a group accustomed to using smartphones and VR,’ Prof. Mouzakis says.

’This meant we had to spend a significant amount of time experimenting and validating the user experience. For instance, we had to ensure that motion sickness is limited as users move around the VR environment.

‘To accurately represent the experience of people with dementia, we also created a high-fidelity environment that looks realistic, with complex lighting, shadows and dementia symptoms that perform well on mobile device’

EDIE’s ability to show carers the realities of a dementia sufferers world, highlight the increasing importance that VR has in real world applications.

‘EDIE provides the user with a 360-degree immersive experience,’ says Ms Maree McCabe, Acting National CEO, Alzheimer’s Australia.

‘The interest in virtual reality and the impact of the virtual reality experience cemented our commitment to adapt the learnings into a free mobile app.

‘With EDIE, we can take the technology to the carer, both personal and professional, anywhere in the world.’

The free app is available on iTunes and Google Play, and the EDIE Google Cardboard headsets are available for purchase for $15.00 at the fighting dementia website, or by calling the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

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Prof Kon Mouzakis
Prof Kon Mouzakis

Director, Deakin Software and Technology Innovation Laboratory

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