A new virtual reality (VR) tool has been launched which aims to improve carers understanding of the symptoms and challenges of dementia.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has joined forces with Bournemouth University to develop the training resource, which aims to help carers develop stronger relationships with people with the condition.

Dubbed The Lived Experience of Dementia, it aims to enhance empathy and increase understanding of lesser-know symptoms by enabling healthcare professionals to experience them first hand through VR.

The tool is built around Alzheimer’s Research UK’s ‘A Walk Through Dementia’ virtual reality app. The free app uses computer-generated environments and 360degree video sequences to illustrate the symptoms and difficulties faced by people with dementia.

The tool asks the user to follow Anne, who has dementia, as she goes shopping, walks back from the supermarket and makes a cup of tea at home.

Each scenario links the challenges Anne faces to the user’s experiences in their working life, enabling them to reflect on how they can apply this when caring for people with dementia.

Michele Board, deputy lead of the Ageing and Dementia Research Centre at Bournemouth University, said: “When we first saw Alzheimer’s Research UK’s virtual reality dementia app, we were struck by its potential to drive more empathy than traditional training approaches.

“Our evaluation work shows that the VR approach leaves a lasting impact on learners and saw many users refer to their experiences in the app when faced with similar situations in their day-to-day work.

“People with dementia often find it difficult to communicate what they’re experiencing or how they need help. It’s only through truly stepping into someone’s shoes that you can develop really human-centred approaches to care.”

Nursing home staff and undergraduate students evaluated the app as a training tool at Bournemouth University’s Ageing and Dementia Research Centre.

Some 82% of users said the app helped them learn more about the symptoms of dementia and 93% had a greater insight into the challenges faced by people with dementia.

Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Our aim is to harness this technology to provide a low-cost way for formal and informal carers to develop their own skills and widen their perspective of the complex experience of dementia.

“This has been a truly special project for us and we’re hugely grateful to our supporters whose experiences inspired the development of this important resource.”

The first 1,000 packs available through the Lived Experience of Dementia website are free.