Deva World, Mentia’s signature project, started out as AVED (Applied Virtual Environment for Dementia) a doctoral research project in response to the increasing prevalence of dementia. The toll on individuals and their families was developing into a global health crisis, with governments facing up to the harsh truth that, short of a cure, it would be impossible to manage the future cost of care.
As a producer and maker of creative content in both traditional and new media, Mandy Salomon’s first thought was how can digital-thinking help those affected? To her surprise, she found very little research into tools that could empower people living with dementia to participate in their own well-being.
An expert on immersive technologies, Mandy undertook a doctorate at Swinburne University of Technology, which was supported by Alzheimer’s Australia (now Dementia Australia) to see how new media thinking could help. Digging deeply into dementia literature, she saw the standout issue, aside from the brain assault itself, was the way the illness robs us of our ability to express a sense of self, causing us to withdraw, or become perturbed and frustrated.
The cruel irony was that the internet was awash with services that enabled healthy others to amplify their identities and interests (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, video games, and so on). How could the media world, with all its huff and puff about personalization, and its strident advocacy of ‘i’ and ‘me’, let down the one group who so much needed help to express ‘self’ and whose well-being depended on it.
There had to be a solution. But what?
Drawing on engagement design principles within the fields of digital media and human-computer interaction, and combining these with practice and principles of person-centered care, Mandy formed a set of design ideas that she took to the dementia community, canvassing and conversing with people with a diagnosis, their families and those providing formal and informal care.
As part of this discovery phase, residents at a memory-support care home worked iteratively for five months on prototyping, gameplay refinement, and empirical testing, with learnings from each workstream informing the next.
The developed prototype elicited a wide range of engagement indicators, observed both qualitative and quantified. The relationship between the caregiver (the supporter) and participant (the player) was lively in terms of extra-world interactions and intra-world interactions. As a well-being activity, it was found to have a measurable impact, with 70% of users being engaged for 30 minutes or more.
What we learned through the process of creating Deva World would not only teach us a lot about how the digital world can stimulate a person’s sense of self; it would also show that people with significant dementia are able to accept the time/space aspects of a virtual world, and could have a sense of agency and independence within it.
As we build out Deva World, we remain committed to co-design, rigor, and experimentation. These principles are at the heart of our mission to digitally transform dementia care. By bringing people and therapy together on an immersive dementia-friendly platform, we can make life better for people with dementia, and their caregivers, wherever they are, and whatever is their journey.