The reality of dementia offers an empathic component to training dementia caregivers

Middle section of an elderly woman holding a nurse's hand.  The caregiver supports the elderly.  They are at home during the coronavirus lockdown.
(Image source: Morsa Images/Getty Images)

A major living service provider has created a dementia training program in virtual reality that it hopes will extend across the continuum of care and become a model for the industry.

Chicago-based CJE SeniorLife and Elderwerks Educational Services have partnered with Toronto-based virtual reality company VR Vision to launch The reality of dementiaa new educational tool for professionals who care for seniors with dementia.

Dementia Reality consists of five interactive virtual reality training programs that learn the who, what and how of caring for someone with dementia, according to CJE’s Director of Engagement and Innovative Programming, Catherine Samatas. Each unit addresses a different aspect of caregiving, using an intentional person-centered approach to care delivery that is role specific.

Samatas said Senior life at McKnight The first two units facilitate morning care activities, while the remaining units address communication, behavior in eating places and activities, as well as de-escalation behaviors.

Each module presents two perspectives – the right way and the wrong way to administer help. The program also allows caregivers to experience daily activities from the resident’s perspective.

“It’s important that you’re not just watching them do their job, but you’re watching the person with dementia’s response when it’s done in one way versus another,” Samatas said. “You can safely see how poor care leads to poor results.”

She added that the training stems from the framework of personality.

“Personality integration is not just an option, but a necessity for building the caregiver relationship that makes the difference between good care and fair care,” Samatas said. “This is an attempt to focus deeply on understanding what it means to be that person and how to work with that person in light of their understanding of them.”


Woman sitting on a chair wearing dementia reality glasses
An employee at CJE SeniorLife undergoes dementia reality training. (Photo courtesy of CJE SeniorLife)

Samatas said the idea for a dementia reality came to her several years ago when she introduced “Instant Israel” — a virtual reality trip to Israel — to residents with dementia at CJE’s Lieberman Health and Rehabilitation Center, which provides dementia care. She told the story of an unimmersed resident who suddenly became excited and excited to see familiar surroundings.

“At that moment, I realized this was a teaching tool,” she said.

After seeking partners, CJE developed a relationship with Elderworks in 2020 to develop training and curriculum, then worked with VR Vision, a virtual reality company to put the parts together. A grant from the Chicago-based Foglia Family Foundation helped develop the program.

CJE did a minor program launch in the spring in LeadingAge Illinois, followed by a professional launch in June at Tamarisk NorthShore, a CJE-managed community in Deerfield. CJE Vice President of Marketing and Sales Beasley Valentinczyk said: Senior life at McKnight That the organization talks to other providers and builds relationships to move the program beyond the walls of CJE.

Teaching empathy

Samatas said that while there have been other VR experiences, this is the first experience directed at training and learning from an empathic perspective.

“At the end of the day, what we hope to get is an emotional response,” she said. “It honors the adult learning perspective for being relevant and applicable.

“Virtual reality creates a memory for them of what it feels like. It stays with them for much longer than any video you watch or conversation you have.”

The reality of dementia is presented in the form of coach training to make the greatest possible impact. Samatas said CJE has completed its pilot versions of the training and will be training staff at the Weinberg Community for Senior Living, in Deerfield, IL, with campus assistance.

While Samatas said CJE is still developing the fee-based training program, it hopes to eventually train “hundreds of thousands” of caregivers in “as many settings as possible,” including residential homes, home health care agencies, certified nursing assistant schools and communities the other.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for an emotional experience that can really change the experience not just for the caregivers, but for the people who care for them,” Samatas said.

Caregivers interested in learning more about the reality of dementia can contact Valentincic.

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