World 1st serious game technology in dementia

By ahhb
Monday, 28 December, 2015




Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria is taking the lead in tackling dementia and ensuring people living with dementia receive the best care and support possible by harnessing technology to lead health care professionals into thinking differently in their approach to caring.


The Virtual Dementia Experience™ (VDE™) at the Perc Walkley Dementia Learning Centre uses multi-sensory stimulation and serious game technology to immerse users in the effects of aging and dementia, so that cognitively intact people can gain an appreciation of the issues confronting people with dementia.
The VDE™ is the first use of serious games in dementia care training anywhere in the world. The experience enables participants to understand the environmental elements that are friendly or hostile to a person with dementia by experiencing a home environment in the same way a person with dementia would. From the experience the participant gains an understanding of dementia friendly design principles and an insight into what it might be like to have dementia.
Alzheimer’s Australia Vic is the peak body providing education, support, advocacy and information for Victorians living with dementia, their families and carers and professionals. Our role is to empower and enable people living with dementia, their families and carers.
We assist carers and families of people living with dementia to manage the daily challenges that dementia brings. We work with health and aged care providers to deliver evidence based good practice in dementia care. We also educate the community about dementia and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in helping to reduce the risk of dementia.
Our organisation was founded by and for carers, in response to public concern about the lack of information, resources and appropriate residential care for people with dementia. Each year, over 25,000 people access services through our counsellors, resource workers and educators.
The Virtual Dementia Experience™ (VDE™) is an initiative of Alzheimer’s Australia Vic developed by Opaque Multimedia. The VDE™ uses multi-sensory stimulation and serious games technology to immerse users in the effects of aging and dementia, so that cognitively intact people can gain an appreciation of the issues confronting people with dementia.
The VDE™ combines a number of technologies to achieve complete immersion in the world of dementia for the user. The senses are occupied by the 10x2.5m projector wall, environment lighting that changes colour to match the wall and occupy the peripheral vision and a 7.1 surround sound system. The user interacts with the simulation through an X-Box Kinect sensor that allows the movements of their avatar in the environment to match their own. This makes user input as intuitive and naturalistic as possible, an important factor in engaging the audience.
The experience enables participants to understand environmental elements that are friendly or hostile to a person with dementia by experiencing a home environment in the same way a person with dementia would and provides a powerful demonstration of dementia friendly design principles and practices. The content of the simulation was created from the stories and perspectives of people living with dementia, their families and carers.
The experience is designed to provide participants with insights into what it is like to have dementia and thereby improve dementia care and dementia friendly environment design.
The VDE™ operates in three ways:

  1. The VDE™ induces the experiences associated with dementia and aging in the participant through effects such as:

    • Modifying the participant’s perceived visual acuity and perception

    • Modifying the participant’s perceived hearing and ability to interpret or filter audio

    • Interfering with the participant’s ability to control their avatar

    • Modifying the environment to represent common hallucinations and memory problems



  2. The participant attempts to interact with, through a series of exemplary scenarios, an environment that is poorly designed and contains a range of potential hazards for a person with dementia.

  3. The participant then experiences the same scenarios with modifications to the environment to make it dementia-friendly.


This is followed by opportunities for debriefing and consolidation of ideas and skills through feedback, reflection, and the application of the ideas and skills to new situations.
As experiential learning is a process that is personal, and influences feelings and emotions as well as enhancing knowledge and skills, it is an ideal vehicle for teaching person centred care.
Evaluation: Traditional dementia awareness and care education methods have not had the desired impact on dementia care, the VDE™ gives a more empathic understanding of dementia and associated conditions. This improved understanding results in changed perceptions and improved care practices.
Dr Wendy Doube, Dr Sunil Bhar and their team from Swinburne University of Technology were engaged to conduct an educational evaluation of the degree to which the VDE™ workshop meets its intended objectives, which are to primarily to promote the following in carers of people living with dementia:

  1. Greater empathy with people living with dementia.

  2. Greater understanding of ways in which the environmental design impacts on people living with dementia.

  3. Greater insight into their own practice as carers.


The evaluation employed both quantitative and qualitative methods to compare the VDE training with equivalent classroom training in a pretest-posttest control group quasi-experimental design. Ninety-six employees from two major aged care facilities were assigned to either a VDE (n=47) or a classroom (n=49) training workshop. All participants completed self-report questionnaires administered immediately before and immediately following the training. In addition, seven participants in the VDE and six in the classroom training volunteered to be interviewed before and following the training. The evaluation confirmed that the VDE™ learning is significantly more likely than equivalent traditional classroom training to engender an empathic understanding of the thoughts and feelings of people with dementia.
The classroom training encourages recall of facts and concepts, whilst the VDE™ is more effective than the classroom training in applying those facts and concepts towards an understanding of care environments as experienced by people living with dementia.
The following interview comment from one of the participants in the evaluation suggests that the VDE™ achieves its aim in enhancing empathic understanding:
“You think that you know, and that you understand and that you’re doing a great job. But something as simple as watching that experience takes you back to ‘you have no idea how somebody else is feeling’, you’re not living in their reality so you don’t know.”
After 30 years of supporting people with dementia, their carers and families, this facility empowers our organisation to deliver on our purpose and showcase our important dementia friendly design messages throughout Victoria and indeed the world.



“You think that you know, and that you understand and that you’re doing a great job. But something as simple as watching that experience takes you back to ‘you have no idea how somebody else is feeling’, you’re not living in their reality so you don’t know.”  


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