Building empathy among caregivers and healthcare providers is an important aspect of treating dementia, and virtual reality (VR) offers a way for people to experience what it’s like living with these conditions. One company, Embodied Labs, developed a virtual reality experience to help train caregivers and medical students on Lewy body dementia (LBD).
The virtual reality program is called The Dima Lab, where users experience different types of dementia-related conditions through protagonists with diverse backgrounds. In one situation, users experience Lewy body dementia through the eyes of a Lebanese-American Muslim woman named Dima. Dima also has symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a nervous system disorder that results in tremors and problems with movement.
Lewy body dementia is a common form of dementia that involves problems with planning, thinking and memory. Hallucinations and loss of focus or concentration, as well as decreased mobility, are signature symptoms of the condition.
Footage courtesy/copyright: Embodied Labs.
As viewers are taken through Dima’s journey, they experience hallucinations like seeing angry customers from a past job or lightning bug-like flies that aren’t there. Viewers are immersed into her home life, where her hallucinations mix into reality. In the background, Dima’s family members try to help her through the hallucinations and her subsequent agitated behavior.
The experience takes viewers through Dima’s home environment, a meeting with a neurologist where she receives a diagnosis and her subsequent move into an assisted living community. Building empathy is important when many patients with dementia, especially those with early-onset conditions, struggle with depression after diagnosis.
“Our Labs take learners from a passive to an active role where we literally put them into the shoes of the person with the disease,” Embodied Labs CEO and co-founder Carrie Shaw said in a press release. “The holistic approach creates enhanced understanding, empathy and ultimately better quality of life.”
Virtual reality technology has been growing in the health care field, from training medical students to raising awareness about diseases. VR has also been used to help dementia patients recall memories.
The goal of The Dima Lab is to reach as many caregivers as possible by telling dementia patients’ stories, Lola Rain, Vice President of Marketing at Embodied Labs, told Being Patient.
“These stories we tell, we believe, will help hundreds of thousands of people,” Rain said. “There are 35,000 senior living communities in the U.S. They employ a million people. We are trying to reach as many of them as possible, to get them to open their doors to experiences, and talk more broadly about the issues family caregivers are facing.”
Linda Freund produced the video and contributed to reporting for this story.