|22 February 2017|

Scotland

An innovative new virtual reality device which will help architects and designers create dementia-friendly buildings and spaces has been launched.

The Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP) allows users to better understand how dementia can impact a person’s vision. It comprises a laptop with high performance graphic and memory capability, VR goggles, a games controller, camera and bespoke software programming.

David Burgher, director at Scottish Borders-based Aitken Turnbull Architects, is behind the idea. He developed it in collaboration with Glasgow CGI company Wireframe Immersive and experts at the Dementia Centre, HammondCare. The Dementia Centre, a world leader in dementia support, care and design, provided the evidence-based research and academic rigour to this product. Wireframe Immersive has developed the virtual environment and will supply the software and hardware.

David said: “At Aitken Turnbull we have many years of experience in designing buildings for the elderly and for people living with dementia and have gained valuable insight into the condition, allowing us to empathise with those who live with it.

“The introduction of this unique VR-EP technology takes this insight to the another level – giving building designers first-hand experience of how dementia affects vision so that we can design spaces that are far better suited to people living with the condition.

“As well as reducing anxiety, the improved design offers a better, safer and more independent quality of life. Dementia-friendly design doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, by using VR-EP, designers will get it right first time and therefore reduce costs.”

The device can be used in the design of new buildings such as care homes, hospitals or sheltered housing, and also has the potential to assess existing buildings and environments. Dementia-friendly design can significantly improve the quality of life for people living with the condition.

Kevin Gordon, Business Development Manager at Wireframe Immersive, added: “VR-EP is leading edge technology being developed by Scottish companies and a fantastic example of how virtual reality can be used to improve quality of life. The scale of dementia and its associated costs is colossal, not just in the UK but across the globe. VR-EP also has the potential to be adapted to simulate other sensory impairments and be used across a spectrum of disorders, so its potential is enormous.”

Positive cost implications

More than 800,000 people in the UK live with dementia, a figure that is expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia costs the UK economy £26.3 billion per year – more than cancer and heart disease combined.

This application can help healthcare providers save expensive adaptive costs by designing buildings and spaces with the person living with dementia in mind.

The VR-EP device was developed with £50,000 of funding from Scottish Enterprise and is projected to generate ten times that amount of sales (£500,000) by year three of trading. Aitken Turnbull Architects and Wireframe Immersive are currently carrying out a scoping exercise with interest from Scottish Development International (SDI) to export this virtual reality device to Europe, China and the States.

David McHoul, Innovation Specialist at Scottish Enterprise said: ‘This project is another great example of Scotland’s strengths in innovation and our support will help develop this ground-breaking dementia design and empathy platform to service a patient group which is globally underserviced. Initial research shows there is a strong demand for this product on an international scale and the VR-EP device will make a profound impact in improving the environment for those living with dementia.”