Memory Mondays: Virtual Reality and Alzheimer’s

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As the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease increases, so too does the focus on different solutions and treatments for cognitive decline. One relatively new approach is exploring how new technologies like virtual reality and Alzheimer’s correlate.

Not only does virtual reality prove a useful tool for those with Alzheimer’s, but it also helps researchers gain a better understanding of the disease.

Researchers in the United Kingdom, for example, created A Walk Through Dementia. This app puts users in the shoes of someone living with dementia so that they can better understand different symptoms and witness them firsthand.

Virtual reality can also be a diagnostic device. A virtual reality game designed and deployed in the UK observes someone’s ability to navigate, which is one of many abilities to go with the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In the game, called Sea Hero Quest VR, users captain a boat and use their sense of direction to figure out how to get through different obstacles and complex waterways. Data about how users fare throughout the game is collected anonymously, with a long-term goal of detecting the earliest stages of dementia.

On the other end of the spectrum, an immersive trip through a program like Google Earth can transport someone who has Alzheimer’s disease to a place that holds fond memories for them. Not only does this prompt reminiscing for the person with Alzheimer’s, but it also promotes conversation about past experiences.

Likewise, virtual reality serves as a calming tactic for people with Alzheimer’s. Set them up with a virtual reality headset that puts them on a beach or in a forest, and they’ll calm down and moods will improve.

With all virtual reality, though, it’s important to find programs or technologies that are both easy to use and meet an obvious need of those involved. As pilots and research continue to evolve, the effect of the relationship between virtual reality and Alzheimer’s will become much clearer.