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Virtual Reality App Gives the Experience of Dementia

22 September 2016 at 11:02 am
Ellie Cooper
A new virtual reality app, targeted at family carers and the wider community, enables users to see the world through the eyes of a person living with dementia.

Ellie Cooper | 22 September 2016 at 11:02 am


Virtual Reality App Gives the Experience of Dementia
22 September 2016 at 11:02 am

A new virtual reality app, targeted at family carers and the wider community, enables users to see the world through the eyes of a person living with dementia.

The Educational Dementia Immersive Experience (EDIE, pronounced Eddie) app, launched Thursday by Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, uses Google Cardboard to provide a 360-degree immersive experience.  

Alzheimer’s Australia Vic manager of business development Dr Tanya Petrovich told Pro Bono Australia News the aim of EDIE was to build empathy for people living with dementia.

Users work through a scenario which shows first hand the challenges of dementia.

“The idea is you’re stepping into the shoes of a person living with dementia, and you’re seeing the world through their eyes,” Petrovich said.

“The scenario we’ve developed is actually a person who we’ve called EDIE who wakes up in the middle of the night and he’s needing to go to the toilet and he needs to find his way to the toilet, and there’s the issues that occur along the way.

“And these are based on real experiences. People living with dementia who live at home, one of the issues is that they become incontinent, now often it’s not actually incontinence but inability to find their way to the bathroom or to know what to do in the bathroom, so it’s the cognitive issues that are developed with dementia that causes the person to become incontinent.

“[In the app] you will see things like… patterns in the environment, which makes it very difficult for the person to decipher the walls from the floor, also furnishings can be difficult to decipher if there’s lots of competing patterns and colours.

“So there are just everyday, simple things that we can do to assist a person to better manage their environment if we understand what the issues are for the person living with dementia.”

Looking through EDIE's eyes.

Looking through EDIE’s eyes.

Petrovich said, while it “sounds really odd”, often family carers had a lack of empathy for people with dementia because of their different experiences of reality.

“When you’re living with someone for 40 years and… then issues start to develop for the person, people often think, ‘They’re just being stubborn, they’re just being difficult’,” she said.

“They don’t understand that, no, it’s not a conflict of personalities going on, in fact things are changing for that person and that person is actually seeing or comprehending things differently to what they used to be.

“So when they do have an accident, or when they do pee in the sink instead of the toilet, it’s because, to them, they actually thought they were at the toilet, they didn’t realise they were at the sink.

“Or people might have difficulties with pouring drinks, it might be difficult to work out where the glass is on the table. There are everyday small situations that can become difficult if the environment is not set up to be enabling for the person.”

The technology, developed with the Deakin Software and Technology Laboratory, builds on Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s previous work creating the world-first Virtual Dementia Experience.

As a mobile app, EDIE makes virtual reality more accessible and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic will hold Enabling EDIE workshops next year.

EDIE is now available and free to download on iTunes and Google Play, exclusively using Google Cardboard.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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