Your Health

Learning on the job: Local caregiver agency partners with VR company to test innovative training

Courtesy of Care Indeed
Meg Gonzales, Care Indeed’s staffing and employee relations coordinator, tests out the new virtual-reality technology being used to train her caregivers.

Care Indeed has joined forces with the Menlo Park-based Strivr to provide a different kind of on-the-job instruction to caregivers who help patients with dementia: virtual-reality training.

“We are the only company in the country that is using this technology to train caregivers on how to interact (with those affected by dementia),” said Melissa Oakes, business development manager of Care Indeed, which provides at-home assistance to seniors and their family members at six Bay Area locations. “Empathy training is absolutely needed. But then, on the other side, it doesn’t teach you how to interact with that person. Sometimes when you just do empathy training, you can come off more as feeling sorry (for the patient).”

During training, Oakes positions the 360-degree-view Virtual Reality Dementia Training headset on the caregiver, who then uses a joystick to select a scenario he or she wants to maneuver through.

In the two scenarios currently available to caregivers, one of the patients gets irritated when he feels as though he is being pitied. It’s just one example of how Care Indeed staffers can learn through a hypothetical situation instead of upsetting a real patient, Oakes said.

The headsets, housed at Care Indeed’s Campbell headquarters, will travel from location to location with Oakes until the program’s launch justifies the purchase of more.

Seeing through someone else’s eyes

The virtual-reality scenarios begin and end in Campbell’s re-created virtual office. A supervisor introduces the people training to an experienced caregiver who advises them, asks them to make decisions and reviews what worked and what did not at the end of the 15-minute module.

“The goal is to give them the tools so that they can practice them in a safe environment,” Oakes said. “So then, hopefully, they’re getting that before they make a mistake with a real person, right?”

According to Oakes, the training is a good reminder of the value of thinking outside the box. The virtual scenarios suggest strategies such as turning on music from dementia patients’ happier days when they begin to get upset over something, allowing them to choose their clothes or teaching them how to do their makeup.

“Whether you’re at a hospital or in a care facility, a lot of times because medication is available if somebody gets agitated, (many caregivers) go, ‘Let’s give them medication,’” said Oakes, a former live-in memory-care facility nurse. “They treat behaviors instead of treating the stimulus, what’s causing that behavior.”

Future plans

Once Care Indeed’s pilot program helps the company establish best practices and create more scenarios to add to its module catalog, Oakes and other senior staff hope to extend the training to other people who regularly encounter dementia patients, including family members and first responders. Family members in particular have asked Care Indeed caregivers how they can immerse themselves in training to better comprehend what their loved ones are going through, but both relatives and first responders would benefit, Oakes noted.

“The first responders are the first people to interact with them (in the event of an emergency),” she said. “So, in the same way they need mental health training, they need this training as well. … People can have dementia and still be functional in the beginning stages, so maybe they just need a little more prompting or a little more time to process what is happening.”

The training addresses many of the common problems dementia patients encounter on any given day, such as forgetting that their spouse is no longer alive. But given the scale of challenges, no training will serve all dementia patients, Oakes said, explaining that each patient has different triggers, and each patient will not react the same way to a solution, like going for a walk, each time it is applied to them.

“We share notes all day long on how to be successful, with what worked and what didn’t work,” Oakes said. “It also depends on the person. What works for me may not work for the next (caregiver). But in sharing that information, we give that caregiver a better chance.”

For more information on Care Indeed, visit

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