Virtual home app to help people with dementia


A new Australian app uses 3D simulations of a home environment to help people living with dementia.

Created by Alzheimer’s Australia Vic and launched on Wednesday, the Dementia-Friendly Home app allows carers to better understand some of the visual and spatial challenges people with dementia — a collection of symptoms caused by brain disorders that make daily life progressively difficult — may face as they move about their homes.

The organisation was looking at ways to showcase the dementia-friendly home, Alzheimer’s Australia Vic Business Development Manager Tanya Petrovich told Mashable Australia. If homes can be better adapted for those living with dementia they may be able to stay living in the community for longer.

Created using game developer tool Unreal Engine, the app allows users to explore a virtual home, Petrovich explained. By navigating using your finger, items can be tapped to find out about their impact. For example, if you tap a bed with a busy-patterned bedspread, it explains why such decorations are not a good idea because people with dementia can misinterpret what they’re seeing.

“White on white is also a very challenging environment,” she added. “The lack of contrast in colours is a hindrance for them to be able to find the basin verses the toilet, so really simple things like putting a different coloured toilet seat [can help].”

The app follows 10 “Dementia Enabling Environment Principles,” developed by academics Richard Fleming and Kirsty Bennett of the University of Wollongong. These include reducing visual stimulation to avoid causing stress, creating clear pathways free of obstacles and personalising areas with familiar objects.

The team decided to create a tablet app instead of a mobile app due to the sheer amount of information it would need to include, and also due to its likely users. “Our audience is usually in that 50-plus age group, because they are looking after their partner or they’re professional carers,” she said. “This is not for gamers … so far, the response has been fantastic.”

Built for tablet, the app costs A$1.99 on the App Store and A$2.99 from the Google Play Store.

Alzheimer’s Australia Vic are not done using technology to spread their message. Petrovich said they also hope to make their Virtual Dementia Experience, an experiential environment allowing carers to understand how their patients perceive the world, more widely available on mobile using the Samsung Gear virtual reality headset. They hope it will be released around September.

“This is a fabulous platform that people can understand simply,” she said. “Text is a barrier .. but by having these visuals, it’s a fabulous way of teaching.”


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