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Avatar boosts communication and empathy in dementia care

Avatar boosts communication and empathy in dementi
Photo: Talk with Ted AI avatar
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia but remains one of the most misunderstood conditions. And while knowledge of dementia is increasing, people still lack confidence in talking to people living with dementia. It’s a behaviour that likely contributes to feelings of loneliness and isolation experienced by people living with the impact of dementia.

A Dementia Australia survey found that while 80 per cent of people had heard of dementia, 60 per cent didn’t know what to say to someone with dementia and 50 per cent worried that they’d be misunderstood or say the wrong thing.

With almost half a million Australians living with dementia – a figure that’s set to rise to over a million by 2058 – that’s a lot of missed opportunities to connect and miscommunication.
Fortunately, that’s all about to change thanks to Talk with Ted, a world-first in online dementia education.

Designed by Dementia Australia’s Centre for Dementia Learning and Deakin University’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2) in collaboration with care workers, the program is based on real-life experiences of people living with dementia.

A2I2 Co-Director Professor Kon Mouzakis said Talk with Ted is an example of how artificial intelligence in the form of an avatar can help promote empathy and understanding.

“Ted has the ability to change the way aged care staff think and act. The training tool has the potential to prompt vast changes in the way care is delivered to people living with dementia.

“At the core of this tool is the ability to have a full conversation with Ted. Trainees must adapt their communication in a way that is empathetic and respectful of the behaviours associated with dementia,” says Professor Mouzakis.

Katy Cavanaugh, Lifeview Residential Manager, agrees that Talk with Ted can help aged care providers and workers more respectfully and effectively communicate with people living with dementia.

“Talk with Ted helps our team practice everyday scenarios that can sometimes be challenging when it comes to caring for people living with dementia.

“Through the program, they can work through scenarios using a range of approaches to communication, which they can then use in real life to provide better care to the residents,” says Ms Cavanagh.

Talk with Ted is vital to quality care and provides the necessary skills for clear and engaging communication, explains Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia.

“Talk with Ted is an innovative, online tool to help ensure the aged care workforce, including aged care nurses, are well-trained and equipped to better support people living with dementia.

“Talk with Ted provides a realistic simulation in a safe environment for care workers and those supporting people living with dementia to practice their communication skills and learn how to better support people living with dementia,” says Ms McCabe.

One of the advantages of Talk with Ted is that it can be delivered remotely, which provides professional development opportunities for care staff and nurses anywhere in Australia.

“Having access to technology tools like Talk with Ted eliminates the need for staff to travel long distances or to have to be away offsite. This, in turn, has less of an impact on roster management and staff replacement costs.

“Technology is creating learning opportunities that were previously limited by location and costs, which enables more time to be dedicated to delivering care.”

Consistent quality aged care depends on a confident and competent aged care sector, and that includes person-centred care and improved communication skills, explains Ms McCabe.

“Talk with Ted applies a person-centred approach to developing skills, which ensures users learn how to put the individual and their needs at the forefront of every interaction. These skills are crucial in ensuring quality care for all.”

The immersive nature of the platform also enhances learning and helps participants retain and recall learned information.

“This type of experiential learning, that is both engaging and innovative, helps people to recall exactly what they’ve learnt and makes them more likely to implement these new skills.  

“Participants who have trialled Talk with Ted are able to recall their learnings up to eight weeks following the training and say it has improved the overall quality of the care they give,” says Ms McCabe. 

Through broad consultation with people living with dementia, their families and carers, Ms McCabe says quality dementia care depends on two fundamental issues.

“There needs to be a clear understanding of the clinical aspects of dementia and the disease trajectory, and a holistic and person-centred approach – including high-quality communication with every individual.”

Elena Donati, a Dementia Australia advocate, says supporting her mum, who lived with dementia for ten years, was an emotionally charged time.

“I was privileged to encounter so many special dedicated, caring staff whose hands were often tied due to funding constraints and lack of understanding of the illness through no fault of their own.

“Talk with Ted can fill in some of the gaps in the education sphere for care staff.

“This unique experiential learning program can assist care staff in their knowledge about what it’s like to live with dementia from the perspective of the person living with the diagnosis.

“There is so much to do to continue to improve the quality of life and care of the person living with dementia at all stages of the illness.

“Talk with Ted is a fabulous initiative towards achieving this goal.

“I hope that all carers and families can experience Talk with Ted , and I look forward to many more developments in this area

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.