New aid for dementia design

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Technology helps professionals improve dementia design

A new virtual reality device has been launched that will help architects and designers create dementia-friendly buildings and spaces by understanding how the condition can affect a person’s vision.

Known as Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP), the Scottish invention is a market first for architectural design.

It can be used in the design of new buildings such as care homes, hospitals or sheltered housing, and also has the potential to assess existing buildings and environments.

Better to consider dementia design at the outset, rather than making adaptations subsequently

More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, and this figure is expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia costs the UK economy £26.3 billion per year – more than cancer and heart disease combined.

This application can help healthcare providers save on expensive adaptations, by designing buildings and spaces with the person living with dementia in mind.

People with dementia can see things very differently. Objects often appear dimmer and less colourful than they really are, which can be frightening and confusing. See the image above, for an idea of how vision can be distorted by dementia.

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See through the eyes of dementia with VR-EP

By using the device to see things through the eyes of a fictional person living with dementia, designers and architects will be able to create homely and familiar environments that could reduce accidents, lessen anxiety and help those with dementia to live more independent lives.

A collaboration between architects, CGI experts and dementia care specialists

The idea is the brainchild of David Burgher, director at Scottish Borders-based Aitken Turnbull Architects, who has developed the product in partnership with Glasgow CGI company Wireframe Immersive and experts at the Dementia Centre, HammondCare.

The Dementia Centre is recognised as a world leader in dementia support, care and design. It provided evidence-based research and academic rigour in the development of this product.

Wireframe Immersive has developed the virtual environment and will supply the software and hardware.

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David Burgher said:

“At Aitken Turnbull we have many years of experience in designing buildings for complex needs, older people and for people living with dementia and have gained valuable insight into the condition, allowing us to empathise with those who live with it.
The introduction of this unique VR-EP technology takes this insight to the another level – giving building designers first-hand experience of how dementia affects vision so that we can design spaces that are far better suited to people living with the condition.
“As well as reducing anxiety, the improved design offers a better, safer and more independent quality of life. Dementia-friendly design doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, by using VR-EP, designers will get it right first time and therefore reduce costs.”

VR-EP comprises a laptop with high performance graphic and memory capability, Virtual Reality goggles, a games controller, camera and bespoke software programming.

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Kevin Gordon, Business Development Manager at Wireframe Immersive said:

“VR-EP is leading edge technology being developed by Scottish companies and a fantastic example of how virtual reality can be used to improve quality of life. The scale of dementia and its associated costs is colossal, not just in the UK but across the globe. VR-EP also has the potential to be adapted to simulate other sensory impairments and be used across a spectrum of disorders, so its potential is enormous.”

Technology developed with support from Scottish Enterprise

The VR-EP device was developed with £50,000 of funding from Scottish Enterprise and is projected to generate ten times that amount of sales (£500,000) by year three of trading.

The developers are currently working with Scottish Development International (SDI) to assess the feasibility of exporting this virtual reality device to Europe, China and the States.

David McHoul, Innovation Specialist at Scottish Enterprise said:

“This project is another great example of Scotland’s strengths in innovation and our support will help develop this ground-breaking dementia design and empathy platform to service a patient group which is globally underserviced. Initial research shows there is a strong demand for this product on an international scale and the VR-EP device will make a profound impact in improving the environment for those living with dementia.”

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Further resources

You can find out more about VR-EP here (link will open in a new browser window)

We have an area of Independent Living dedicated to support for living with dementia

Guidance on designing a dementia-friendly bathroom can be found here

You can read an interesting guest blog about human rights for people living with dementia, here


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