In Summary

Swinburne University of Technology PhD student, Mandy Salomon, has designed an app for people living with mid-to-later stage dementia, drawing inspiration from the world of virtual reality.

Ms Salomon, a senior researcher at the Smart Services Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), has been working on a project called AVED (Applying Virtual Environments for Dementia Care), which uses virtual reality to help dementia patients living in aged care residence.

Virtual reality presents endless opportunities for people with dementia, who are missing the familiar and comforting surroundings of home.

“Home is universal and we know people miss it,” Ms Salomon said.

“We chose familiar places for our 3D environment; a sitting room, kitchen and garden, to offer people meaningful tasks drawn from their past,” she said.

AVED is a pilot prototype of an interactive, tablet-based, 3D environment, which was guided by Salomon’s extensive field research. It was built by a team of former and current Swinburne students led by PhD students James Bonner and Norman Wang.

The app was designed with the help of dementia residents living in aged care residence. 

 “They can decorate their virtual rooms using colours, fabric swatches and paintings or drag their favourite photos into wall frames. Or (they can) just touch and explore. It’s a bit like a game but there’s no prescribed narrative,” Ms Salomon said.

In her assessment of AVED, Salomon looked at a number of factors including how the residents ‘experienced’ the activity, the interactions they undertook and if using the app provoked reflection about themselves and the world.

“We closely observed nursing-home residents using it and found that when we revisit, they remember us and the application, which, given their condition, is quite profound. It makes us feel fantastic,” Mr Bonner said. 

Salomon’s PhD is under the auspices of Smart Services CRC, and the project is supported by Alzheimer’s Australia.

In October, Salomon will travel to Scotland to present her findings from AVED at the Alzheimer's Europe Conference and the IdeasLab 2014, hosted by the University of Stirling.

Read more about AVED: http://www.swinburne.edu.au/magazine/21/369/tapping-into-memory/ 

Check out Mandy Salomon’s blog: http://www.digitaldownunder.org/2014/09/a-virtual-world-for-people-with-dementia-our-research/

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