Many caretakers and family members of people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can struggle to understand the experience of living with the conditions.
People living with dementia can often say or do things that make little sense to outsiders – creating a rift between the person with dementia and the people around them.
That’s why video game developers are teaming up with the organization Alzheimer’s Australia to create immersive virtual experiences for both Alzheimer’s patients and their caretakers.
Their goal is to provide a calming, therapeutic experience for people with dementia, while at the same time creating an educational tool for those looking to better understand the perspective of people with the condition.
Games For Dementia Patients
Partnered with multimedia company Opaque Media, Alzheimer’s Australia’s first game prototype is a virtual forest environment which can be controlled with simple gestures.
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Designed for gaming platforms such as XBox One, the video game uses sensors to provide a gaming experience without the need of significant hand-eye coordination:
“Just a sway of the arms will make the sun rise or the wind blow through the tress, or even a season change from sunshine to snow; a clap of the hands will cause the leaves to fall or the birds to fly up.” writes Alzheimer’s Australia on their blog(1).
“The aim through the use of this sensory therapy process is to enable people living with dementia to experience a sense of awe, wonder and fun in their everyday lives.”
Games For Caretakers
In combination with the forest game for dementia patients, Alzheimer’s Australia and Opaque Media are also fundraising for the completion and distribution of a game designed for caretakers, friends and family members of people with dementia – anyone with an interest in gaining a better understanding of what it’s like to live with the condition.
The Virtual Dementia Experience contains features such as special filters to simulate visual impairment, and textures designed to simulate the way things like shiny white tiles and busy carpet patterns can appear to those with dementia.
“For some participants, we’ve given then a small window into what their relatives might be experiencing. Even trained caretakers in dedicated facilities can still underestimate the impact aspects of the environment have on people with dementia and ageing-related medical conditions, so this simulation is useful for professionals, including caretakers and facility architects, as well as the general public,” says Opaque Media team leader Norman Wang(2).
Raising Awareness Through Video Games
These aren’t the first games to tackle the subject of raising awareness around medical conditions. In recent years, games like independent developer Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest – a game designed to provide players with insight into what it’s like living with depression and other mental illnesses(3) – have taken casual gameplay by storm.
Still other game developers have taken steps to make video gaming a more accessible experience for people with disabilities. According to a recent study conducted by games studio PopCap, roughly one in five players of casual video games have a disability, be it physical, mental, or developmental(4).
As of 2015, the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions requires that console games include communications options that are accessible to gamers with sensory disabilities(5).