The use of virtual reality technology has steadily made its way into the senior care arena, especially when it comes to innovative senior housing communities. Overall, though, VR is a tool that is still underutilized by in-home care providers.

Care Indeed is working to change that, as the company recently implemented a VR dementia training program for its growing network of caregivers.

Founded in 2010, Menlo Park, California-based Care Indeed provides non-medical home care — hourly or live-in — throughout the Bay Area in California and in Seattle’s bustling King County.

The company currently employs about 500 people; In 2018, its annual revenue checked in at roughly $20 million.

Care Indeed quietly launched its VR dementia training program in March with the goal of better preparing its caregivers for the trials, tribulations and challenges of caring for older adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and similar cognitive impairments.

“We did an in-depth training to understand our client’s journey and realized that there is a training gap when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s,” Dee Bustos, CEO of Care Indeed, told Home Health Care News. “We decided to provide this VR training where our caregivers would be able to interact with dementia in a safe environment.”

Care Indeed’s training program is powered by STRIVR, a VR company also based in Menlo Park that specializes in employee and athlete training and learning modules. Since launching in 2015, STRIVR has raised more than $21 million in funding, according to online startup fundraising tracker Crunchbase.

Broadly, VR technology creates a computer-generated environment that allows users to immerse themselves in a virtual world or experience using a variety of devices, such as a headset in the case of Care Indeed.

Care Indeed’s immersive 3D virtual training simulation allows caregivers to gain valuable experience while minimizing some of the safety risks that come with learning in person. For example, individuals living with dementia can often become aggressive in certain situations, particularly when they’re communicating with somebody who lacks the necessary patience or understanding required to care for them.

According to Bustos, Care Indeed built its program on different client interaction scenarios.

The VR training works in support of an additional training class the company has for its caregivers.

“We get to see [caregiver] responses and how that affects the client’s demeanor,” Bustos said. “The overall goal is to increase caregivers’ confidence and skill before they go out into the field. If they make a mistake, they are able to see the outcome and are able to adapt.”

In order to make sure that the VR simulations produced an accurate representation of what caregivers could expect in the home, Care Indeed worked with a range of subject matter experts on dementia, including doctors and the Alzheimer’s Association, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that provides support and research for the disease.

VR and employee engagement

Typically, when VR has been implemented in the senior care space, it’s been used as a resource for older adults themselves.

For example, VR company Rendever uses its technology to reduce the social isolation of older adults living in senior living communities throughout the U.S. by allowing them to “visit” their childhood homes, sporting events and other far-flung travel locations. So far, the company has worked with more than 100 senior living communities in total.

But Care Indeed decided to shift the focus of its technology to the ones providing care to older adults to take traditional training to the next level, according to Bustos, who noted that VR training has the potential to be more memorable than video or text-based learning methods.

While adopting VR is a relatively rare move for home care providers, Care Indeed and STRIVR are not alone in their efforts.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles-based Embodied Labs created a virtual reality experience that allowed caregivers to see what it would be like to die in hospice care.

Additionally, nursing programs have begun using VR technology and other simulations to show students what it’s like to work in the home.

“It’s, for us, to leverage the engagement of our caregivers,” Bustos said. “We want to give our caregivers the best training possible when it comes to real-life experiences.”

In a time when the in-home industry is plagued with workforce shortage issues, employee engagement is also increasingly important when it comes to retaining caregivers.

Companies that have higher employee engagement — involvement, enthusiasm and commitment — tend to have better retention rates, according to Gallup.

As far as results, 98% of surveyed Care Indeed caregivers report feeling more engaged during the VR training process. The vast majority also believe that immersive training is an effective way to gain exposure to real patient interactions.

While Care Indeed has not officially measured its retention rates since implementing the VR program, the hope is that high engagement rates translate to high retention, according to Bustos.

Care Indeed is similarly hoping to expand the program moving forward, she said.

“Although we initially began this introduction into VR with STRIVR, we are now looking to expand the program with other companies to encompass more in-depth training modules -– benefiting not just our caregivers but our larger community of families, health care organizations and providers.”

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