Wednesday, 16 March 2016 09:07

Game tech applied to making homes 'dementia-friendly'

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"There's an app for that" is a cliche, and the phrase "ageing population" often turns up in political discourse. But even if there's a person with dementia in your family, would you have thought of an app that can make their home more accessible for them?

Launched by Alzheimer's Australia Vic, the Dementia-Friendly Home app uses the Unreal Engine interactive 3D game technology Unreal Engine provides carers with ideas to make their home more accessible for people living with dementia.

Alzheimer's Australia Vic CEO Maree McCabe pointed out that people with dementia may experience spatial and visual challenges as well as memory issues.

"Changes in the brain can impact on day to day functions and potentially confuse people living with dementia," she said.

"Identifying ways the home and environment can be modified to ameliorate any challenges will make a difference to the person living with dementia."

The app is based on the ten Dementia Enabling Environment Principles. Many of its suggestions are small and inexpensive, such as placing labels with pictures on cupboard doors.

Bigger changes that can help people with dementia include motion-sensing automatic light switches, and changing busily patterned wall or floor coverings.

"This app aims to enable people living with dementia to maintain their independence and continue living at home. It may also help build on their self-esteem, which can have a profound impact on the quality of life for a person living with dementia, as well as families and carers," Ms McCabe said.

70% of people with dementia live in the community.

Norm Smith cares for his wife Cathy, who is living with dementia, and wants her to feel comfortable in their family home.

"Using the app affirmed ideas I'd had around labelling cupboards and keeping floors and hallways clear and well lit.

"It also made me realise I need to try to pre-empt situations that could be challenging for Cathy when we visit other people's homes or our church.

"Enabling Cathy to remain involved in the daily routine, even just being able to make a cup of tea for herself and guests, to contribute to the household planning and activity is really important to us and impacts positively on her and our family," said Smith.

The $2.99 app is available for iOS and Android. It was developed by the Deakin Software and Technology Innovation Laboratory and Alzheimer's Australia Vic, with funding from the joint Commonwealth and State Government Home and Community Care program.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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