Someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds, with an estimated 50 million people living with dementia in the year 2017, and doubling every 20 years, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International. To do something about these exceedingly high year-after-year statistics, medical professionals are embracing a variety of technologies, including virtual reality.
Alleviating Symptoms of Dementia
There are a variety of dementia symptoms including stress, agitation, and even mood swings. As we already know, the healthcare industry already leverages virtual reality to manage pain and anxiety, so it seems only sensible to use it for addressing anxiety-induced dementia symptoms as well.
In order to explore how virtual reality calms patients, helps uncommunicative patients speak, as well as rekindle lost memories, a VR healthcare project, ImmersiCare, partnered with a care home group, Quantum Care. They implemented virtual reality into the daily lives of residents in elderly care by providing immersive experiences showing calming and peaceful scenes to dementia patients. These tranquil scenes help create an effective distraction that allows healthcare professionals an alternative for altering patient stress levels with drugs.
Healthcare and Human Connectedness
For the elderly, the loss of mobility can lead to isolation and depression. While using virtual reality technology cannot replace visiting somewhere in person, for those who can no longer be mobile, or have extreme difficulties in being mobile, it can be the next best thing. Virtual reality offers a chance to reconnect with places that many may thought they would never see again, or even for the first time.
One company making this happen is Rendever, which allows users to visit a virtual world together as a group, uplifting social interaction at the same time. This tool also enables something called reminiscence therapy, which is a way to spark memories and discussion from users as they view familiar locations. For patients with dementia, memories become something that is hard to recall, especially life events or even family members.
Rendever plans to leverage their tool to be used by families of dementia patients in order to create their own custom tours or experiences of things like family homes or videos. Their hope is that these memories can be recalled back, helping dementia patients to stimulate their cognition and even slow the progression of the disease.
Continued Research for Diagnosis Improvement
Spatial navigation is one of the very first cognitive functions that is inhibited by dementia. This causes the loss of ability to recognize landmarks, paths, and other clues to determine where you are, and how to get to where you’re going.
To continue to research human spatial navigation, Alzheimer’s Research UK developed Sea Hero Quest VR, a virtual reality game to aid in these studies. It’s available now for iOS and Android, and as users play anonymously, data is collected to gain greater insight into human spatial navigation behaviors. The research team believes that establishing the baseline for these skills will ultimately lead to better diagnostic tests so that a dementia diagnosis can be made earlier, and progression of the disease can be tracked. It also provides more opportunity for users to provide raw, usable data to the scientific community and continue to advance research.
Enhancing Efficiencies and Improving the Patient Experience
There is still no cure for dementia, as well as Alzheimer’s, and no treatments that even slow the progression of either disease. The treatments that are currently available only help in managing symptoms. While researchers continue to find better treatments, and even a cure, earlier diagnoses can help both patients and healthcare providers plan ahead for the many challenges that a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnosis can bring.
For healthcare providers and facilities for the elderly and dementia patients, virtual reality technology can absolutely help address the quality of life and coping challenges that are faced. It can also offer a solution that leads to happier, more engaged patients as well as satisfied families.