Background and objectives: The need to provide an empathic response to the care of people with dementia has long been advocated. Virtual reality-based programmes continue to gain momentum across health sectors, becoming an innovative tool that provides staff with the opportunity to experience a dementia-like experience within a relatively short time frame. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact of an interactive training experience on moral, emotive, behavioural and cognitive elements of empathy.
Research design and methods: A qualitative exploratory design was adopted employing purposive sampling to identify participants, aged over 18 years, who participated in the Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT®) programme. Interviews were conducted over a two-month period, and qualitative thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.
Results: The four components (moral, emotive, behavioural and cognitive) of empathy were reflected in findings. Overall the interactive training programme was perceived as useful, and emotionally, it provided an opportunity to "imagine what it is to live with dementia," enabling a cognitive, moral and behavioural reflection to occur, enhancing the empathic state.
Discussion: In this study, the VDT® provides a different way of learning, with participants reporting the emergence of an empathic response. Results suggest that the emotional response laid the foundations to the behavioural or cognitive (objective and subjective) reaction which was underpinned by a moral reaction.
Implications for practice: Virtual reality programmes are one step in the process for healthcare professionals caring empathetically for people with dementia; however, further research is required.
Keywords: Virtual Dementia Tour; caregivers; empathy; healthcare professionals; hospital.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.