Maria Jose Urbiola Gallegos is a Neuropsychologist and second-year Ph.D. student in Cognitive Psychology at the Broca Living Lab in Paris. Her main research interest centers on the co-design and development of technological solutions for the health; autonomy and quality of life of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and for the health and social care staff working with dementia patients. Her doctoral research aims to develop a virtual patient simulation tool for training the staff working with people with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia; called “VirtuAlz”. She is also concerned about Compulsive Hoarding Disorder in elderly people and the validation of a component of virtual reality as a part of treatment for this disease.
VirtuAlz – Virtual Patient Simulation Tool
Taking care of the increasing population of people with Alzheimer’s disease worldwide requires specifically trained healthcare professionals. Yet training should not only involve foundational knowledge but also effective communication skills as people with dementia offer care challenges, including patients’ safety and dignity. However, as of today, constrained resources and limited clinical exposure negatively impact training quality and consistency. As a result, many healthcare professionals deal with patients with dementia who have insufficient communicative and adequate social skills. This increases the risk of negative interactions, exhaustion, and abusive practices.
Virtual Patient (VP) simulations are already used as cost-effective tools for healthcare professionals’ training in many domains (emergency care, surgery…). VP-based applications engage learners in repetitive clinical practice through interaction. A character who presents symptoms of a specific illness provides them with expert feedback in a safe virtual environment. VPs enable students to get the necessary exposure to a range of clinical scenarios, compensating for their lack of field training. VPs may ease the learning of operational skills. However, such tools have rarely been used to train communicative skills with patients dementia.
VirtuAlz will fill the gap in digital training resources for dementia care professionals by providing an interactive experience, easily accessible and dementia-focused with automated expert feedback. Our goal is to present high-fidelity simulations of complex and dynamic critical care scenarios involving VPs who display cognitive and psycho-behavioral dementia symptoms (memory loss, poor judgment, apathy, agitation, aggressive behaviors, …) and that require appropriate nonverbal behaviors from the carer.