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Virtual reality device aids design for dementia

David BurgherA new virtual reality device has been launched that will help architects and designers create dementia-friendly buildings and spaces.

The invention is a market first for architectural design and will be known as Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP) and will enable designers to understand how dementia can affect a person’s vision.

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. Dementia-friendly design can significantly improve the quality of life for people living with the condition.

There are currently more than 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia, a figure that 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 expensive adaptive costs by designing buildings and spaces with the person living with dementia in mind.

People living with dementia can see things very differently, with objects often appearing dimmer and less colourful than they really are, which can be frightening and confusing.

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

The idea is the brainchild of David Burgher (pictured above), 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 the evidence-based research and academic rigour to this product. Wireframe Immersive has developed the virtual environment and will supply the software and hardware.

Mr Burgher said: “We have many years of experience in designing buildings for the elderly and for people living with dementia and have gained valuable insight into the condition, allowing us to empathise with those who live with it.

“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.

Kevin Gordon (right), 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.”

Professor Mary Marshall, senior consultant at the HammondCare Dementia Centre’s UK team said: “One of the biggest challenges for researchers, trainers and consultants in dementia design, is how you convey the experience of the environment for people living with dementia.

“This device has the potential to be immensely beneficial for researchers, commissioners, architects and interior designers, and many other professionals in this field, and the Dementia Centre, HammondCare are delighted to be part of it.”

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. Aitken Turnbull Architects and Wireframe Immersive are currently carrying out a scoping exercise with interest from Scottish Development International (SDI) to export 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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