By Dami Hastrup, CEO and Founder, MOONHUB (www.themoonhub.com)
As we focus on diagnosis this Dementia Action Week, we must also begin to prepare for an influx of people with dementia diagnoses and crucially how we care for them. Alzheimer’s Research UK has predicted that by 2050 57 million people worldwide will be living with dementia. Meanwhile, the Care Quality Commission has highlighted that unequal standards of dementia care are currently being delivered due to a lack of training, including at end of life. This needs to change. Digitalising the health and social care sector, including by introducing innovative approaches to training, will empower healthcare professionals to drastically improve the increasing number of patients’ quality of life.
The Power of Virtual Reality Training
Dementia displays itself in a broad variety of ways, each of which can be very distressing for those living with it. To best support individuals with dementia, we need to provide person-centred care that has empathy, communication and knowledge at its heart. Virtual Reality (VR) presents a unique opportunity for training that delivers on this.
Research shows that immersive and experiential simulations are most effective in enhancing carers’ understanding and empathy. Realistic care scenarios, designed in 360° video-shot learning environments, deliver a more holistic outlook of how people with dementia experience the world. The key perception challenges faced, the core cognitive difficulties, and key communication techniques needed to provide people with dementia with excellent support. It also means carers can practice reducing and preventing distress in a safe, risk-free environment. This increases the learners’ sense of emotional connection to the training. In fact, VR learners are 3.75 times more emotionally attached to course topics than classroom learners and 2.3 times more than e-learners, according to PwC.
Beyond enhancing their compassion, VR enables learners to train anytime, anywhere, giving them a level of control that improves engagement. What’s more, research shows VR learners retain 75% more knowledge than eLearning (10%) and classroom (5%) based training, and learners report being 275% more confident in applying the skills they’ve been trained on in the field.
The outcome is a care workforce with honed technical skills, heightened cognitive awareness, and an understanding that dementia is only a diagnosis and not a definition of their patients.
In addition to the benefits VR offers for patient care, it also has the potential to facilitate staff retention and attraction in a sector struggling with both (care worker turnover 2020-2021 was 34 percent).
It has the power to change perceptions of care and gives carers a realistic overview of what working in the sector will be like. This means they’re better prepared and have the support needed to succeed and stay in the profession.
The benefits of digitally transforming training, including through VR, are clear. So, what are some of the barriers to action?
Funding Transformation of Care
According to research promoted by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the estimated health and social care costs of dementia in 2021 were £14.2 billion. Making it significantly more expensive than both cancer (£12.3 billion) and coronary heart disease (£11.6 billion). In line with rising costs, the Health and Social Care Committee recently recommended a need for greater dementia funding. As part of its report, it highlighted how current government commitments wouldn’t be able to tackle the training challenges present in the industry. With this issue yet to be fully resolved, we must consider how the industry can attain the funding needed to improve training and consequently care.
In the last government spending review, £500 million was allocated to workforce training. If some of this could be directed towards digital transformation of dementia training, it would go a long way in improving the lives of the 850,000 people with the syndrome in the UK.
Digitalisation and Quality of Life Inextricably Linked
It’s time for the health and social care sector, along with those who fund it, to recognise that innovative, digital approaches to training can facilitate a more comprehensive understanding of how to care for people with dementia. With early evidence indicating that solutions such as VR could lead to a better quality of life for dementia sufferers, now is the time to act.