Dementia Australia: Improving Care for Dementia Patients by Harnessing Virtual Reality Technology

When we think about Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR and VR), we tend to associate them with the entertainment genre. Although VR is most widely recognised as a gaming tool, it has also made significant improvements in the healthcare space to the lives of those living with autism, chronic pain and other health conditions.

Dementia Australia has similarly leveraged VR technology in an effort to improve the lives of those living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Through the introduction of BrainyApp, which utilises experiential learning to simulate the conditions of living with dementia, Dementia Australia has successfully improved care and living conditions for dementia sufferers.

Ahead of Australian Healthcare Week 2019 we chat to Maree McCabe, Chief Executive Officer at Dementia Australia. In this article Maree chats to us about changing trends in healthcare and explores how these trends are prompting greater innovation in the sector. Maree further explores how video game technology, like Dementia Australia’s BrainyApp, is aiding widespread education and improving care.

How are global trends in aged care changing? How does this impact traditional aged care models?

“We’re seeing a shift in global trends, and the shift really is toward the consumer, it’s toward co-design, it’s toward co-payments as well. So there is a big trend in aged care at the moment to really work with the end user, looking at how we can design facilities, services and programs that are going to make a difference to that person and their life.

And certainly, in aged care, the requirements of the next generation are going to be very, very different from the current generation. We’re seeing shifting trends in Australia and globally too. In China for example where residential aged care was not something that was considered to be appropriate for elders; we’re now seeing a move towards it because of the one child policy.”

Could you explain the BrainyApp? How is the app helping overcome the challenges of Dementia care?

“BrainyApp, which we developed back in 2012, was really our first foray into technology.

When we released it, we were hoping for 2,000 downloads in the first two weeks, instead we had 42,000 downloads in the first two days, which was extraordinary - we event bumped Facebook off first place.

The app was developed all around education. It was around elevating people’s awareness, around the things that make a difference to reduce your risk of dementia which includes was diet, exercise – not only exercising your body, exercising your brain, staying socially engaged, looking after your vascular health, so making sure that your blood pressure and cholesterol were at healthy levels.

We’ve now had over 400,000 downloads worldwide, and we’ve released BrainyApp in Spanish and also in Dutch, so it’s been a really exciting initiative.”

How is virtual reality technology improving delivery of care and shifting attitudes towards people living with Dementia through experiential learning?

“Video game technology has caused a huge and profound shift in the lives of dementia sufferers. While we were able to affect change in the education space, we weren’t seeing that translation from knowledge into practice.

From there we started considering what we could do differently. We begun exploring experiential learning and we talked about changing attitudes and practice by allowing people to actually experience what it’s like to have dementia. So essentially we’ve used video game technology to simulate the experience of dementia and it gives people like an almost 3D experience of what it’s like.

What we’ve found is that it makes a huge different to the empathy that people have after walking in the shoes of somebody living with dementia, they start to see things in the environment that could be impacting behaviour, they start to see things that they can put in place for the person living with dementia which would make their life easier, and they’re empowered to make changes.

So this VR is something that really does enable and empower carers and healthcare professionals to really look differently at the experience of the loved one with dementia, and then start to do things that will actually enable that person living with dementia.”

How did you work to secure stakeholder buy-in for technology investment?

“We’ve actually got a couple of apps, and we’ve got one called the Dementia Friendly Home App as well, which we worked with people living with dementia and carers to develop.

By engaging the end users at the beginning, you get a much better product and you get a product that really speaks to some of the challenges that people living with dementia can experience, and that their carers can experience.

So getting people involved at the earlier stages is absolutely critical to informing the further development of whether it’s an app or the video game technology, but it makes a massive difference to the end product to do that.”

What does the future hold for Dementia Australia in regards to technology and care delivery?

“We’re actually going through a process of unification at the moment. So we’re moving from a federated structure into a unified body. This provides  a number of opportunities for Dementia Australia and the community that we serve.

By unifying our operations it means that the things that are done well in states and territories can be extrapolated throughout the nation, and that people living with dementia and their family and carers have access to things that were once only available in a particular state or territory, will now have better access to things that we know we will make a difference to their lives and the quality of life that they have.”

Interested in Learning More?

If you’re interested in hearing more about technology innovation in healthcare join us at Australian Healthcare Week 2019.

The event held in Sydney on the 27 - 28 March, 2019 at the ICC Sydney brings together over 5000 healthcare professionals, solution providers and healthcare innovators.

For more info visit:

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