Midsection of elderly woman holding hand of nurse. Caregiver is supporting senior female. They are at home during coronavirus lockdown.

Dementia Reality introduces an empathetic element in the training of caregivers with dementia

(Credit: Morsa Images/Getty Images)

A senior living provider has created a virtual reality dementia training program that it hopes will span the continuum of care and become a model for the industry.

Chicago senior living provider CJE SeniorLife and Elderwerks Educational Services have partnered with Toronto-based virtual reality company VR Vision to launch Dementia Reality, a new educational tool for professionals caring for seniors with dementia .

Dementia Reality consists of five interactive virtual reality training programs that teach who, what and how to care for someone with dementia, according to CJE’s Director of Engagement and Innovative Programming, Catherine Samatas. Each module addresses a different aspect of caregiving, using a person-centred and intentional approach to caregiving that is role-specific.

Samatas said McKnight Senior Residence the first two modules facilitate morning call activities, while the remaining modules deal with communication and behavior in restorative and activity settings, as well as de-escalation behaviors.

Each module offers two perspectives — the right way and the wrong way to administer aid. The program also allows caregivers to experience daily activities from a resident’s perspective.

“It’s important that you don’t just watch them do their job, but observe the reaction of the person with dementia when it’s done one way versus another,” Samatas said. “You can definitely see how bad care produces bad outcomes.”

She added that the training builds on the personality framework.

“Personality integration is not just an option, but a necessity in building that caregiver relationship that makes the difference between good care and fair care,” Samatas said. “It’s about trying to focus very deeply on understanding what it means to be that person and how to work with that person by understanding them.”

An idea

Woman sitting on a chair wearing Dementia Reality glasses
CJE SeniorLife staff member undergoing Dementia Reality training. (Image courtesy of CJE SeniorLife)

Samatas said the idea for Dementia Reality came to her several years ago when she presented “Instant Israel” – a virtual reality trip to Israel – to residents with dementia at the Lieberman Health and Rehabilitation Center in the CJE, which provides care for people with dementia. She told the story of an uncommitted resident who was suddenly animated and excited to see familiar surroundings.

“At that time, I realized it was an educational tool,” she said.

After looking for partners, CJE developed a relationship with Elderworks in 2020 to develop the training and curriculum, then worked with VR Vision, a virtual reality company to put the pieces together. A grant from the Chicago-based Foglia Family Foundation helped develop the program.

CJE soft-launched the program in the spring at LeadingAge Illinois, followed by a professional launch in June at Tamarisk NorthShore, a CJE-run community in Deerfield. CJE Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Paisley Valentincic, said McKnight Senior Residence that the organization talks to other providers and builds relationships to take the program beyond the walls of CJE.

teach empathy

Samatas said that while there are other virtual reality experiences, this is the first one that is training-oriented and teaches from an empathetic perspective.

“Ultimately what we hope to generate is an empathetic response,” she said. “It respects the perspective of adult learning, that is, it is relevant and applicable.

“Virtual reality creates a memory for them of how they feel. It stays with them much longer than any video you watch or conversation you have.

Dementia Reality is deployed in a train-the-trainer format to have the greatest impact. Samatas said CJE has completed its training betas and will be rolling out staff training to its Weinberg community for Senior Living, a Deerfield, IL, assisted living campus.

While Samatas said CJE is still expanding the paid training program, she eventually hopes to train “hundreds of thousands” of caregivers in “as many places as possible,” including residences, home care agencies, certified nursing assistant schools and other communities. .

“It’s an incredible opportunity for an empathic experience that can really change the experience not just for caregivers, but for the people they care for,” Samatas said.

Service providers wishing to know more about Dementia Reality can contact Valentincic.

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