Imagine trying to say “Can you pass the bowl of salad, please?” but instead, it comes out as “Please you the salad can pass of bowl?” This happens during the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, and it’s a symptom known as aphasia. Through new virtual reality technology, people can simulate this experience and others associated with aging-related diseases.
This kind of technology is being harnessed by a new company called Embodied Labs to improve care for the elderly by cultivating empathy among those caring for them.
Carrie Shaw, founder of Embodied Labs, said she wanted her company to bring new answers to these questions: “How do we communicate the most common experiences that elders are going through? How do we frame those experiences within an immersive first-person narrative so that caregivers can gain insight and transform the way that they care?”
How do we communicate the most common experiences that elders are going through?
Shaw, a medical illustrator and health educator, became a caregiver more than a decade ago at the age of 19 when her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She struggled to know what to expect as a caregiver as her mother’s disease progressed.
She found some low-tech simulations helpful in showing caregivers what it felt like to have visual or hearing impairments. In 2016, she founded her company to make even more life-like, immersive simulations with the help of technology.
Embodied Labs, which recently won the grand prize from AARP Innovation Labs Pitch Competition, uses virtual reality to help caregivers understand what it’s like to live with a variety of age-related diseases.
Caregivers can take on the perspective of Beatriz, a middle-aged woman, as she progresses through the early, middle, and late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Beatriz’s condition worsens as she experiences hallucinations and becomes more confused. During the late stage, Beatriz is cared for by a nurse, and the user sees the emotional toll that Beatriz’s disease has on her family. Users also see a visualization of changes that are happening in the brain.
Caregivers can also simulate the experience of a man who suffers from macular degeneration and hearing loss, and another man who is diagnosed with incurable lung cancer.
Carol Wu is an editorial intern with MemoryWell. She is student at New York University in the liberal arts program, studying in Washington, D.C.