DEBBIE Collins knows more than most about caring for people in the late stages of dementia.

She has spent eight years at Corner Lodge care home, in Jaywick, which specialises in looking after people with different forms of dementia.

As activities co-ordinator, she works with every resident to ensure they still lead satisfying and stimulating lives.

For a family member of someone living with dementia, the difficulty and pain in watching their symptoms worsen is both real and raw.

Debbie deals with about 40 people who suffer with different forms of dementia, but upon meeting her it quickly becomes apparent her positivity and enthusiasm have never been blunted.

She must get to know each resident – their stories, experiences and interests as well as their physical and cognitive ability – to ensure she can cater activities to each of them.

Her experiences have taught her the best ways to engage and stimulate most dementia patients.

She said: “There are three tried and tested ways to engage the majority of our residents.

“I find you cannot go wrong with children, animals and music.

“We have had reindeers in here over Christmas and at Easter we bring in baby bunnies and chicks.

“We have had ballroom dancers here, a couple of the residents even got up to dance with them.”

With Debbie and her colleagues on the lookout for new ways to engage their residents, they jumped at the chance to trial a new project at the forefront of innovating dementia care.

The Wayback Project uses virtual reality as a means of sparking emotions and memories for dementia-sufferers.

More than that, it acts as a simple conversation-starter between the patient, carers and family members.

Wearing a simple headset, the patient is immersed in a realistic recreation of Coronation Day in 1953.

Shot on 3D film using actors, costumes and immensely details props, the short film is designed to bring back vivid memories and experiences for the viewer.

The idea was developed by three advertising professionals with family experience of dementia.

For founder Dan Cole, it was inspired by a trip down memory lane with his late father Terry, from Clacton.

He conceived the idea following a drive around Camden with Terry, then in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As Terry peered out the window, he was reminded of the places he used to frequent as a youngster, right down to the pubs he used to drink at.

Dan said: “We want it to become a tool, used by carers and staff at care homes to get conversations going with people living with dementia.

“One lady this morning loved music and it brought back memories of songs she liked at the time.

“Another lady was reminded of the street she grew up and her neighbours.

“It’s not really about what they see with the headset, it is about what it can start.”

The project managed to crowdfund £35,000 to help create the first film.

Now the creators are touring care homes across much of the country to trial the headsets and document the results.

As residents at Corner Lodge pull on the inexpensive sets of goggles, looks of bemusement shift into smiles of delight and wonder.

The headset works and the residents are immersed.

Some begin to chat about where they were at the time of the coronation, some simply praise the quality and accuracy of the production, while others even break out into song.

Dementia-sufferer Bob Hartshorne, 86, vividly informs me exactly where he was during the coronation.

He said: “I was overseas in the Air Force in those days.

“But they shipped films out there for us to see, it was so long ago, but I remember they were in colour. It was way back.

“I think the video is very good, amazing really.” Noreen Kenny, 85, recalls the street parties and describes the vivid colours and outfits people wore on the day.

“People were dressing up, there was singing,” she beams.

With that, Noreen breaks into song, laughing and merrily conversing with staff and the Wayback team.

For Dan, the reaction is almost always positive, and he is sure the idea is a winner.

The project is a finalist in the Essex Challenge Dementia Prize contest, which could yield a prize grant of £100,000 investment.

Dr David Sheard, of Dementia Care Matters, has helped with and consulted on the project.

The team hope to widen the project by creating further films charting significant moments in history.

Before his visit to Corner Lodge, Dan stopped off at the Haven care home, in Colchester, where residents trial the headsets. Home manager Ryan Moring said: “The residents were so excited to use them.

“When they had the headsets on, they felt as if they were actually there – it helps to create memories.”

While visits from primary school pupils and real-life reindeers will help to stimulate and engage many of the residents, the real heartbreak lies in the minority of residents in the late stages of dementia.

Not even innovation in the field of virtual reality will stimulate them.

Those with the most severe forms can lose all physical capabilities and the ability to communicate.

They are a frank reminder a cure for dementia is still out of reach.

But Debbie does all she can to ensure those suffering the worst symptoms still feel the comforting presence of someone who cares.

Debbie said: “My last resort then is a hand massage or a cuddle.

“Touch is good when it gets to that stage.

“Touch is the last thing I have got left to give them.”