Embodied Labs Puts Your Mind in an Elderly Body
Raji Sahota posted on September 18, 2020 |
Why virtual reality is the future of training caregivers.
With virtual reality, you can feel what it’s like to experience geriatric ailments like macular degeneration. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)
With virtual reality, you can feel what it’s like to experience geriatric ailments like macular degeneration. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)

Carrie Shaw, the CEO and founder of Embodied Labs, struggled after her mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, unable to explain to caregivers the exact nature of her mother’s visual impairment. 

CEO and Founder Carrie Shaw. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs, Inc.)

CEO and Founder Carrie Shaw. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs, Inc.)

After her first invention, a pair of glasses to help explain her mother’s disease , she took to virtual reality (VR) to help caretakers better understand the aging community.

What was once a fantasy soon became something so much more. Shaw used VR to embody the elderly experiencing a disease.

Her invention led to the start of Embodied Labs, a company that trains hundreds of  caregivers and students across America.

“My mom had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and I really felt like I struggled to know what she was experiencing and how to care for her because of that,” said Shaw. “So I would always imagine if I could jump into her perspective and understand what she’s hearing and seeing that made her experience the world and respond that way to me, as her caregiver. She needed more and more care, that even professional caregivers like a home health aide or a certified nursing assistant had some of the same struggles that I did. And so I wound up getting a master’s of science in biomedical visualization, and this is the first module that we ever created.” 

Headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif., Embodied Labs combines the work of developers, medical experts and seasoned Hollywood filmmakers. As caregivers and students put on the headsets, they enter the world of their elderly patients. 

The Alfred Lab program simulates living with macular generation. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)
The Alfred Lab program simulates living with macular generation. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)

The VR programs take participants on a perceptual journey in another person’s skin. Current modules include the Alfred Lab, which follows an African-American man with age-related macular degeneration; the Beatriz Lab, which follows a Latina’s 10-year journey through the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease; and the Clay Lab, which embodies a Vietnam veteran diagnosed with terminal cancer who, with his family and hospice workers present, experiences end of life.

The training program is used for home care, senior living, hospice, medical and nursing schools, hospitals, and other employers. 

“One of the really powerful ones is our end-of-life experience, where you’re able to walk through the perspective of someone that is given a terminal cancer diagnosis. Then you make decisions about how you want to live out the end of your life and you can experience and rely on home hospice care,” said Shaw. “For a lot of people getting into hospice as their career—if you’re younger or maybe have less experience—you haven’t necessarily seen a lot of examples of what happens when someone is at the end of their life. So the program really gets people that ability to understand an end-of-life experience.”

Embodied Labs uses VR experiences to embody the perspectives and conditions of the elderly, helping people to gain an understanding they can’t get from traditional training tools. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs, Inc.)
Embodied Labs uses VR experiences to embody the perspectives and conditions of the elderly, helping people to gain an understanding they can’t get from traditional training tools. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs, Inc.)

Training is  based on the Embodied Labs framework. 

The Embodied Labs Framework has three stages: Prepare, Embody, Reflect. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)

The Embodied Labs Framework has three stages: Prepare, Embody, Reflect. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)

“Each module is encompassed by our learning framework of prepare, embody and reflect. So, before someone puts on the VR headset, they really understand what they’re doing in the experience and what the learning outcomes are. And then they use the immersive piece of that training in that five- to seven-minute module. And then they come  out and they’re guided through a debrief and reflection to apply that to their care for older adults,” said Shaw.

In one of the company’s earlier programs, participants embodied Alfred, a 74-year-old man with high-frequency hearing loss and age-related macular degeneration. As people lived a day of his life, interacting with his doctor and family, they quickly learned that hearing and vision loss can make someone look like they have cognitive impairment, even if they do not. It is in fact the macular degeneration and declining vision that makes communicating and simple tasks more challenging. The Embodied Labs programs are used to increase empathy and caregiver confidence while promoting a patient-centric approach to care.

The United States is currently facing an aging population concern as the percentage of elderly citizens is expected to nearly double from 12 percent to 20 percent in the next 20 years. This means that by the next decade the elderly will face an unprepared workforce that cannot meet their specific health needs. 

To add to the problem, there is also a shortage of students pursuing geriatric specialties as they look for careers that are more enjoyable, fulfilling and well-respected. There will also be a lack of 12,500 to 31,100 primary care physicians in the next five years. Due to this concern, it is important to attract more students to help fill this gap and meet the needs of the older generation. 

By using VR simulations, students can gain an understanding of the perspective of an aging patient as well as improve understanding, communication, teamwork, technology literacy, and community. It will also allow them to realize the benefits of the job. 

VR also has many great advantages for effectively teaching undergraduates. 

Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Learning” compares information retention in passive vs. active learning. Charles Baukal proposed an update that includes VR. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)
Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Learning” compares information retention in passive vs. active learning. Charles Baukal proposed an update that includes VR. (Image courtesy of Embodied Labs.)

It allows them to retain more information as they  actively learn and interact, just like in real life. Embodied Labs suggests that

VR training could provide more than 90 percent knowledge retention after two weeks versus 50 percent for  watching videos or demos, 30 percent for watching a PowerPoint presentation, and only 10 precent for reading.

In recent years and especially during the time of social distancing, schools are implementing more active learning techniques such as problem-based learning, case study-based learning, competency-based learning, and simulation training.

“We have now over 50 different universities that use this, ranging from your typical MD program to a doctor Osteopathic Medicine program,” said Shaw. “Students have simulation training hours that they’re required to complete, and Embodied Labs can fulfill their simulation training, especially with COVID because a lot of their hours have shifted from being in clinics to more virtual right now.”

Such active learning techniques use cognitive science practices called embodied cognition, which is a branch of cognitive science that emphasizes that mental processes are shaped through other aspects of the body. Technology can help the mind learn through sensing, moving and physically processing through the body as we often learn better by using our whole body to understand, experience and interact with learning content. 

With VR, the incumbent is transported into an alternate world with situations resembling the real-world scenarios they’ll face once their training is complete. 

Combined with the best learning practices and the latest technology, VR has paved the way for a future of more effective training as people embody the elderly. 

Recommended For You