A SCOTTISH invention has been unveiled that will help architects and designers create dementia-friendly buildings and spaces by understanding how the condition can affect a sufferer’s vision.

The Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP) is a first for architectural design and can be used in the design of new care homes, hospitals or sheltered housing, and has the potential to assess existing buildings.

More than 800,000 people in the UK suffer from dementia, a figure that is expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. It costs the UK economy £23.6 billion a year – more than cancer and heart disease combined. Dementia-friendly design can improve the quality of life for people living with the condition. VR-EP can help healthcare providers save expensive adaptive costs by designing buildings and spaces with the person living with dementia in mind.

It is the brainchild of David Burgher, director at Scottish Borders-based Aitken Turnbull Architects, who has developed the product with Glasgow CGI company Wireframe Immersive and experts at the Dementia Centre, HammondCare – a world leader in dementia care and design.

Burgher said: “At Aitken Turnbull we have many years of experience in designing buildings for the elderly and for people living with dementia and have gained valuable insight into the condition, allowing us to empathise with those who live with it.

“The introduction of this unique VR-EP technology takes this insight to the another level – giving building designers first-hand experience of how dementia affects vision so that we can design spaces that are far better suited to people living with the condition.”

People living with dementia see things differently, with objects often appearing dimmer and less colourful than they really are, which can be frightening and confusing.

By using this device to see things through the eyes of a person living with dementia, designers will be able to create homely and familiar environments that could reduce accidents, lessen anxiety and help those living with dementia live more independent lives.

VR-EP comprises a laptop with high-performance graphic and memory capability, virtual reality goggles, a games controller, camera and bespoke software.

Wireframe Immersive has developed the virtual environment and will supply the software and hardware. Kevin Gordon, their business development manager, said: “VR-EP is leading edge technology being developed by Scottish companies and a fantastic example of how virtual reality can be used to improve quality of life.”

Professor Mary Marshall, a senior consultant at HammondCare Dementia Centre’s UK team in Edinburgh, added: “One of the biggest challenges for researchers, trainers and consultants in dementia design, is how you convey the experience of the environment for people living with dementia.

“This device has the potential to be immensely beneficial for researchers, commissioners, architects and interior designers, and many other professionals in this field.”

The device was developed with £50,000 of funding from Scottish Enterprise and could generate 10 times that amount in sales by its third year trading. There has also been interest from Scottish Development International to export it to Europe, China and the US.