How Virtual Reality Can Assist Dementia

Whilst there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease remains the most common type.

Symptoms include memory loss and cognitive decline. At first, symptoms are mild, but they become more severe over time. There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. This is estimated to rise to 2 million by 2051. Sadly, there is no cure yet for the disease, but there are things we can do to improve the lifestyles of those who are suffering.

 

 

Whilst technology is taking over our lives and not always in the best of ways, a positive we can take from 21st-century technology is the development of augmented reality and how it can benefit people living with dementia.

Augmented reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment using a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto someone’s field of vision. This can be a wearable glass device, head-mounted device or through smartphone applications.

 

 

While augmented and virtual reality has become a huge and important tool for recreational gaming, it has also proven to be a valuable experience for both dementia patients and healthcare professionals. Researchers have found that exposing people with dementia to virtual reality environments helped them recall old memories, reduced aggression and improved their interactions and behaviour with their caregivers.

Dementia can cause memory loss so severe that it negatively impacts a person’s ability to perform day-to-day activities and restricts access to many places they are used to visiting. The VR experience lets patients experience activities that they no longer have access to in daily life due to their poor declining health and secure environments.

 

This concept creates a ‘personal space’ option for patients in long-term care. Not only has the experience been proven to relax people, but it also offers respite from lots of emotional peaks which are common with the condition.

 

How it affects Caregivers

 

As we know already, the healthcare industry already utilises virtual reality to manage stress and anxiety in patients, which is all the more reason to be using this more often for specifically dementia patients. Frequently, tranquil scenes help create an effective distraction that allows caregivers an alternative for helping patient stress levels with drugs/medicine. Along with this, it has been proven to help uncommunicative patients speak more, as well as rekindle lost memories.

Aside from virtual reality calming patients and improving their behaviour and mood, VR experiences deepen and improve interactions with patients from the caregiver’s perspective as they help give a unique insight into the lives of patients and the disorientation that they experience day to day. These can be used for training purposes or to simply get a better understanding of what it is like to live with dementia and experience different types of situations.

 

Looking Forward

 

Some technology companies are developing programmes to be used by families of dementia patients in order to create personalised tours or experiences of things like family home tours or videos.  The hope for this is that some memories can be recalled easier, helping dementia patients to improve their cognitive health and even potentially slow down the progression of dementia.

Whilst VR headsets can be expensive and might not be accessible to many of us, Alzheimer’s Research UK have created various  A Walk Through Dementia videos which offer 360 videos designed to put you in the shoes of someone living with dementia in everyday situations through a 360 experience like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-Rcbj_qR4g

 

Embracing this new generation of technology can be the perfect solution that leads to happier, more engaged dementia suffers as well as satisfied families and caregivers who suffer the effects of dementia from their loved ones every day.

 

 

Posted 19th September 2019

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