Virtual reality (VR) has been used for some time in the diagnosis or treatment of dementia. In addition, thanks to this technology, solution designers, for example for people with dementia, can see how they see and perceive space.
Students of the Faculty of Architecture and the Faculty of Automation, Electronics and Computer Science at the Silesian University of Technology learn about this, and explore design knowledge for the elderly and people with dementia.
“By conducting classes with students, we know how difficult it is for young people to imagine the problems of older people. So, using virtual reality, we have created a tool that allows us to empathize with older people: it shows us the visual imbalances associated with aging in the body, mimics the way a wheelchair moves and weakens Hearing due to the presence of noise. Thanks to this, we can check how the space we designed is seen by the elderly, who are accompanied by a number of diseases that affect the perception of space. Using virtual reality, the designer can assess whether he has chosen the artistic tone correctly, or contrast of individual surfaces, etc..” – said Dr. M. Iona Pinnick from Silesian University of Technology.
She added that seniors are a very demanding category for architects because they are accompanied by a number of diseases – motor, perceptual, visual and auditory impairments.
Hence the idea of using virtual reality to test an apartment designed for an elderly person.
In this way, a typical corridor of a hospital or health center was created. “The VR user performs specific tasks and experimental variables that are performed in the virtual world, such as going through a corridor, in this way the clinician or psychologist tests his perception and how he adapts in a new, unknown space. Here, the main focus has been on testing cognitive functions such as: episodic memory , free attention, executive functions, future memory, working memory. When designing, special attention was paid to ease of use and the choice of tasks that people over 60 years old face in on a daily basis ”- explained Bennick.
This solution was tested – even before the pandemic – on a small group of patients at the Geriatric Hospital in Katowice, and the researchers published the results.
“Its advantage is that we can check the cognitive functions of a person without preparing a special space. Just put on the glasses and take the test within 10-15 minutes” – said the researcher.
In Benek’s opinion, the approach of the elderly themselves to this modern technology is positive. “The seniors were eager to test out virtual reality; they had no problem trying our solution,” she said.
In this semester – as part of the PBL (Project-Based Learning) classes, which aim to connect students and scientists from different fields and faculties, with partners from the socio-economic environment, in order to create innovative solutions – students design a graphic information system for people with dementia on a The form of stickers and notifications, which will also be transferred to virtual spaces.
“In the apartment, we assume that a particular person knows the layout of the rooms, but may have problems remembering, for example, what is in a particular kitchen cupboard. That is why we design labels showing where it is located. This solution is already in common use in the world in centers Taking care of people. However, in public, these tags should be more comprehensive, that is, they should serve all users. We combine a description / caption and a diagram, which has a stronger impact on the user – I explained.
She added that in the public space, unfortunately, there is a lack of useful information for the elderly or those with dementia. It concerns information, for example, about the layout of the building or the location of toilets in it.
Dr. Bennick, who deals with design for the elderly, also collaborates with the Foundation Laboratorium Architektury 60+ (LAB 60+), as well as with the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering of the Silesian University of Technology, where scientists develop innovative devices, for example to assist the elderly in their daily activities.