Dementia carers to see the world through the eyes of their patients

Monday 6 January 2014

A low angle photograph of Swinburne University of Technology signage on the Advanced Technologies Centre building in Hawthorn.

Aged and healthcare workers will be taken into the world of dementia with a virtual reality tool developed by Swinburne University of Technology students in conjunction with Alzheimer’s Australia Vic at its new dementia learning centre in Parkville.

The facility aims to make workplaces, homes and public spaces more dementia-friendly.

Swinburne PhD student Norman Wang headed the team from Opaque Multimedia – which included fellow digital media graduate, Liam McGuire, and PhD student, James Bonner – to develop the showpiece of the centre - a 10m x 2m video screen that allows carers to see the world through the eyes of their dementia patients.

The multi-sensory simulation uses light, sound, colour and visual content and interactive touch screen and gesture- sensor technology.

Through surface and gaming technologies, the screen creates a powerful 3D experience for carers, allowing them to walk into different room environments and experience how these rooms would look to a person living with dementia.

 Mr Wang said sufferers of dementia undergo perceptual disturbances, where the brain is unable to interpret the environment accurately.

“For example, to someone with dementia, patterns on a wall may appear to be moving, causing them to feel threatened.

“This technology creates empathy in carers, teaching them dementia-friendly principles that allow patients to have a warmer experience, and effectively live in their homes for a longer time period.”

The dementia learning centre has already attracted international attention; the World Health Organisation has invited a representative from Alzheimer’s Australia Vic to demonstrate the wall at the World Health Organisation Global Forum on Innovations for Ageing Populations in Japan this month.

In another collaboration with Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, Swinburne PhD student Mandy Salomon is developing fun and entertaining iPad programs to help engage people with dementia and their carers and family.

“The principle is to offer failure-free, pleasurable activities by taking conventional recreational activities, such as memory books, arts and craft, gardening, cultural visits, music, dancing, pets, decorating and cooking, and interpreting them as an interactive app,” Ms Salomon said.

Ms Salomon is currently building a software prototype. She recently won the Smart Services CRC CEO award for most outstanding student.