Deploying virtual reality technology can “vastly improve” day-to-day life for dementia patients, bolstering their ability to recall past memories, reducing aggression and improving caregiver interactions.
That’s according to new research unveiled at a computing conference that wrapped up on Thursday. Investigators with the University of Kent recently tested the VR tech on eight patients at a mental healthcare facility and are excited about the early results, as well as implications for nursing facilities.
“VR can clearly have positive benefits for patients with dementia, their families and caregivers. It provides a richer and more satisfying quality of life than is otherwise available, with many positive outcomes,” said Jim Ang, Ph.D., study author and a senior lecturer in multimedia and digital systems in the University of Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts, in Canterbury, England.
Patients in the study were strapped into VR headsets and transported to one of five different virtual environments — a cathedral, a forest, a sandy beach, a rocky beach or a countryside scene. Researchers monitored 16 sessions to gather feedback and found that participants were able to recall old memories when they were provided with new stimuli that was difficult to achieve because of their ill health or inaccessibility in a secure environment. The VR headsets also helped providers learn more about patients’ lives before they began receiving care, thereby improving social interaction.
Researchers said a larger study is needed to validate the results. The early findings were presented at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Glasgow, Scotland last week.