Dementia Reality Images

CJE SeniorLife has partnered with Elderwerks Educational Services to launch the first virtual reality dementia program that combines skills training with real-life obstacles in a virtual environment. Dementia Reality® is a new educational tool for professionals caring for older adults with dementia. Tapping into the power of technology for training purposes, this program can benefit the healthcare system as well as older adults with dementia and their loved ones. The goal is to have more empathetic caregivers and happier, engaged clients.

  • Catherine Samatas, CJE Director of Engagement and Innovative Programming, spearheaded Dementia Reality with Elderwerks: “This project is a collaboration of many talented people. Among the key contributors are Elderwerks’ Certified Dementia Educator and Training Specialist Chris Petrik and Cognitive Health Specialist Sarah Cohen.” The social service organization Elderwerks has coordinated, advocated, and educated older adults and their families about senior living and available resources in suburban Chicago since 2012. Considered “senior guidance advisors,” Elderwerks serves over 11,000 individuals annually and is skilled in developing educational programs for professionals in aging services.

    Dementia Reality

    “Dementia Reality brings multiple senses to training, which, as we have learned, is a far more effective way to train and engage employees, so they are confident and successful in their jobs,” explains Dan Fagin, President and CEO of CJE SeniorLife. “CJE has always been committed to serving older adults and we expect to see exceptionally positive outcomes for both the trainees and the clients they care for with this new training. We are gratified to fulfill our mission to serve older adults with this outstanding program.”

    The new virtual educational model utilizes technology to immerse professionals in the dementia world. Through various scenarios, trainees experience situations from several viewpoints: first, as an individual with dementia and then, as an objective viewer of the interaction between a person with dementia and others. “This type of programming is an impactful addition to training that is currently available for caregivers. Being delivered via virtual reality is so powerful,” said Samatas.

    CJE SeniorLife and Elderwerks staff at the LeadingAge 2022 Annual Meeting and Expo.
    CJE SeniorLife and Elderwerks staff at the LeadingAge 2022 Annual Meeting and Expo.

    What sets Dementia Reality apart is how this training emphasizes the feelings of a caregiver with the plight of a client to build empathy and a trusting relationship. In one module, the focus is on a resident who is awoken by a caregiver to help with her morning personal care routine. The first portion illustrates the caregiver assisting with simple tasks such as finding her glasses and brushing her teeth. But because the caregiver is unengaged and ill trained, the process is challenging and unsafe. Some trainees became emotional during this module because it was difficult for them to watch. Next, the trainees are shown the same sequence but with the caregiver properly following safety procedures, working in tandem with the resident, and with more kindness and patience.

    “Dementia Reality is unique in that it allows the learner to experience empathic and non-emphatic responses to caregiving situations,” said Jeannine Forrest, PhD, RN, Dementia Educator and Care Consultant. “You feel like you are in the room. It will be exciting to see how this visual learning will lead to more skilled and compassionate care over time.”

    Each chapter opens with a real-life situation in the virtual reality setting. The person-centered focus is not only on the client but also on the concerns of the caregiver. Group discussions among the trainees and trainers are part of the overall curriculum.

    Trainees are eligible to earn continuing education units (CEUs) after the completion of the course.

    According to Elderwerks’ President and Founder Jennifer Prell, “We are very excited about the advancement in dementia training that Dementia Reality brings to all those who want to learn about and help those living with dementia. Elderwerks’ education team in partnership with CJE is ready to move forward with this new instructional model.”

    CJE SeniorLife and Elderwerks recently invited senior care providers and caregiver instructors to sample the virtual reality training firsthand at their Dementia Reality product launch at Tamarisk NorthShore, a CJE Managed Community in Deerfield. Dozens of industry experts donned virtual reality goggles to immerse themselves in the training experience and the overwhelming response was positive. One attendee describes the experience: “The visual makes you feel like you are encapsulated in it. It is like you are there with the resident and caregiver. This is a great new tool in the care of seniors.”


To learn more about this exciting and innovative program, please visit DementiaReality.org.