Virtual reality (VR) technology can improve the quality of life for people with dementia by helping them recall past memories, reduce aggression, and improve interactions with caregivers, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts, including Dr. Jim Ang and Ph.D. candidate Luma Tabbaa, took place at mental health care provider St. Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton, England.
Eight patients between the ages of 41 and 88 who are living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, took part in the study. Each patient used a VR headset to “visit” one of five virtual environments (VEs): A cathedral, a forest, a sandy beach, a rocky beach, and a countryside scene.
According to the researchers, 16 sessions were monitored with feedback gathered from patients and their caregivers.
One key finding was that VR helped patients recall old memories by providing new stimuli difficult to achieve, due to ill health, or inaccessible within a secure environment, according to the researchers. For example, one patient recalled a holiday when they saw a bridge in the VE because it reminded him of that trip, while another remembered a holiday where they visited a market.
These memories not only provided positive mental stimulation for the patients, but helped their caregivers learn more about their lives before care, improving their social interaction, the researchers noted.
The patients also demonstrated their own choices during the experiment, with some keen to explore different VEs within a session, while others explored the same environment repeatedly, the researchers said.
According to Ang, a larger study is needed to validate the results, but the early indications showed VR has huge potential.
“VR can clearly have positive benefits for patients with dementia, their families, and caregivers,” he said. “It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes. With further research it will be possible to further evaluate the elements of VEs that benefit patients and use VR even more effectively.”
The researchers added that as it becomes easier to produce 360-degree VR videos, it could allow VEs specifically designed for individual patients, such as their home or a favorite location, to be created.
The study was presented at the 2019 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and published in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
Source: University of Kent