Ohio Masonic Home uses virtual reality to train staff for dementia patients

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The Ohio Masonic Home, 2655 W National Rd. in Springfield, is using a technology that simulates having Alzheimer’s and dementia to help train staff.

The technology is a virtual reality program paired with a VR headset, earning the name Embodied Labs. Participants wear the headset and are put into place as a character with one or more conditions.

In total, there are three characters whose lives can be experienced to showcase what it’s like to have forms of dementia: Beatrice, Dima and Alfred. Each has a unique set of conditions that are simulated as well as different simulations to show the various stages of these conditions.

Beatrice simulates early, mid and late-stage Alzheimer’s, Dima simulates Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia, and Alfred simulates hearing loss and macular degeneration, a type of vision loss.

When wearing the headset the simulation not only simulates what your vision would be like if you had any of these conditions, but it also changes how and what you hear based on the conditions the character you have chosen suffers from.

For example, when experiencing Alfred’s conditions, the program places a black spot in the middle of your vision, making it difficult to see and complete the tasks you are asked to do. It also lowers the volume of simulated conversations to demonstrate hearing loss.

There are also four other simulations for various situations.

The program is intended to help staff and families understand what their loved one is going through.

“It really impacts our armed care staff or nursing staff, especially those that have not maybe had any experience and then they’re just dipping their toe in the world of health care. It gives them that hands-on first experience before they even reach a resident. It also helps with some of our more experienced staff as a refresher,” Stephanie Brezina, a nurse educator for all Ohio Masonic Home campuses, said.

She emphasized the benefit the program can have for families.

“For the families that I’ve done it with it’s been, ‘That’s why mom does that. That’s why dad doesn’t hear me. That’s why they do this.’ So it helps them in that way to kind of recognize (experiences),” Brezina said.

Embodied Labs is not run by the Ohio Masonic Home, but is a separate company. However, as of now, the OMH is the only home in Ohio using this technology.

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