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Virtual Reality Tool Wins Caregiving Challenge

AARP Services, UnitedHealthcare announce winners

lightbulb shaped like a brain

John Lund/Blend Images/Gallery Stock

The innovation challenge focused on help for family caregivers who care for the more than 50 million people worldwide living with dementia.

The innovators behind a software called Embodying a Person With Alzheimer's in Virtual Reality will receive $25,000 after taking the top spot in the Caregiving for Dementia Innovation Challenge. Announced in September by AARP Services Inc. (ASI) and insurer UnitedHealthcare, the competition was aimed at stirring up ideas and finding solutions for people caring for someone who’s in the early or middle stage of dementia.

Embodied Labs, the developer behind the virtual reality (VR) idea, says its invention, which won Most Viable Solution, enables Alzheimer's caregivers to experience how the disease affects other parts of a person’s body beyond memory. The subscription-based software gives caregivers access to different experiences through a VR headset. It is designed to help caregivers gain empathy and insight into how Alzheimer's patients progressively lose many bodily functions over time.

Another big winner in the innovation challenge is YouthCare. Students at UCLA led the idea, which is a program to train student volunteers and partner them with individuals who suffer from early-stage dementia. The respite and memory care program, which was awarded a $15,000 prize in the Most Promising Idea category, is said to be a “win-win-win” for the student, caregiver and patient. For volunteers, it grants an insightful experience and may interest them in pursuing this field of study. For caregivers, it offers a break from tending to loved ones and an opportunity to network. And for patients, the program gives them a companion and helps decrease their social isolation.  

In addition to the prize money, the winning groups will receive in-kind support to help them develop their solutions.

"As family caregivers become a larger and more significant part of our culture, it's crucial that we work alongside them to create real solutions that will have lasting benefits on their day-to-day lives," said Sanjay Khurana, vice president of Caregiving Products and Services at ASI. "We continue to be blown away by the breadth of innovative ideas and collaborative support displayed by this engaged community."