Clark-Lindsey's VR training gives caregivers inside look at residents' challenges

Clark-Lindsey's VR training gives caregivers inside look at residents' challenges

URBANA — Meet Beatriz, an older woman full of questions about what's going on around her as Alzheimer's disease steadily deteriorates her brain.

Meet Alfred, a 74-year-old man struggling to get along with age-related hearing loss and narrowing vision.

Meet Clay, a 66-year-old man who learns his throat and lung cancer is terminal and it's time for him to enter hospice care.

They're not real people, but caregivers encountering them in virtual-reality training are getting a unique perspective of what it's like to walk in the shoes of the real people under their care.

The Urbana retirement community Clark-Lindsey Village began providing this training for its staff about a year ago and is now also making it available to Clark-Lindsey residents and their family members and to visiting clinical students in the community.

The training involves sitting at a computer, strapping on a headset and, for a time, experiencing the thoughts and emotions of Beatriz, Alfred and Clay in the midst of their diseases.

Karen Blatzer, Clark-Lindsey's marketing director, said she took this training even though her job doesn't involve direct caregiving, because anyone working at Clark-Lindsey is in daily contact with the residents.

"I actually felt things," she said after her virtual reality session with Beatriz moving through early, middle and late stages of Alzheimer's. "I felt the frustration. I felt the sorrow."

Darla Schall, Clark-Lindsey's education coordinator, said the virtual reality training provides an added dimension with an emotional impact that can help caregivers and family members develop a deeper empathy for those in their care.

"It just takes it to a different level," she said.

As the Alzheimer's disease simulation begins, for example, Beatriz is with her adult daughter and grandchild in a park. She wonders why they keep asking her if she's OK. She wonders why her purse is in the hands of her daughter.

Most people think about Alzheimer's in terms of its memory loss effects, Schall said. But the Beatriz simulation also brings out what else this disease does — how it impacts perceptions, emotions and the ability to complete what used to be familiar tasks, she said.

Through the Clay virtual reality experience, there's the impact of getting a terminal diagnosis from a doctor, going through plans for hospice care in the midst of family dynamics, being in the final days of life and then, passing from life to death, Schall said.

Clark-Lindsey is using virtual reality technology from Embodied Labs, a company whose founder and CEO, Carrie Shaw, became a caregiver at age 19 when her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Clark-Lindsey plans to add virtual reality training for Parkinson's disease next and for other chronic diseases as Embodied Labs makes them available, Schall said.

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