New VR device designed to help architects and designers create dementia-friendly spaces

Photo credit: Unsplash/Remy Gieling

Could virtual reality improve quality of life for those living with dementia?

There's always innovative work and research taking place around dementia, from the development of new drugs and treatments for the condition to studies into the causes of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

One interesting new development that could lead to benefits for people living with dementia is the creation of a new virtual reality (VR) device designed to improve understanding of how the condition can affect a person's vision.

Dementia can lead to significant differences in how people perceive their surroundings, with objects sometimes appearing dimmer and less colourful than they are in reality. As well as being unsettling, this can make everyday life more difficult for the person experiencing it.

Known as the Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP), the new invention is reportedly a market first for architectural design. It could be used by building or interior designers to get a better idea of how someone with dementia might perceive the world around them, so they can create more comfortable environments that reduce the risk of accidents, lessen anxiety and help people be more independent.

This could make a big contribution to the design and development of new buildings including care homes, hospitals and sheltered housing, as well as the assessment of existing spaces.

Crucially, it could help healthcare providers design environments with the needs of people with dementia in mind, thereby keeping adaptive costs to a minimum. It's estimated that dementia costs the UK economy £26.3 billion a year, which is more than cancer and heart disease combined.

VR-EP was created by David Burgher, director at Aitken Turnbull Architects, in partnership with a VR tech developer and experts at the HammondCare Dementia Centre.

Mr Burgher said his company has gained "valuable insights" into dementia, having built up years of experience in designing buildings for the elderly and for people living with the condition.

"The introduction of this unique VR-EP technology takes this insight to 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," he added.

"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."

Professor Mary Marshall, senior consultant at the HammondCare Dementia Centre's UK team, said this device could be "immensely beneficial" for researchers, commissioners, architects and other professionals, because it helps to convey the experience of living with dementia.

People who have loved ones with dementia can do a number of things to help the person continue to live and enjoy their life, such as letting them help with basic everyday tasks and creating memory aids for them to use in their living space.

A new virtual reality device could lead to safer and more comfortable living spaces for people with dementia.