- Title: VR gives dementia patients 'magical' trip to their past
- Date: 27th August 2019
- Summary: SCREEN SHOWING RACETRACK THAT DREW CAN SEE ON THE HEADSET
- Embargoed: 10th September 2019 11:33
- Keywords: Dementia virtual reality health technology illness care for the elderly Alzheimer's
- Location: NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM/ ANIMATION
- City: NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM/ ANIMATION
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Health/Medicine
- Reuters ID: LVA004ATZUZ4R
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: "Aaaahhh!" 85-year-old dementia sufferer Drew exclaimed, as his motorbike engine roared while he whizzed around a racetrack - well, a virtual reality (VR) racetrack.
Straight after his 360-degree lifelike ride, Scotland-born Drew reminisced about driving his own motorbike when he was young - as well as a time he drove so fast he got a speeding ticket. His carers had not heard him speak about his speeding ticket since he joined the care home after his diagnosis in 2015.
His carers believe that the VR motorbike experience triggered this particular memory. While he has spoken about his love of motorbikes before, he was able to go into much more detail after using the headset.
Drew is one of eight patients at a mental healthcare home in central England who were part of a study that concluded that VR could vastly improve the quality lives of people with dementia.
The research, carried out by the University of Kent, found that VR technology helped dementia patients recall past memories by providing a "new stimuli" that is difficult for patients to achieve in any other environment.
It also found the VR had a positive effect on patients' moods, reduced aggression and improved their interaction with carers.
For Drew, a sociable man who loves dogs and motorbikes, VR has been a "complete success". He is a patient at St. Andrew's Healthcare in Northampton, where the trial took place.
"What we find with Drew is that where he might not remember the day-to-day things, he absolutely remembers his experiences with the virtual reality. And not only that, but he'll then go on and tell people about other people's reactions to him talking about the virtual reality, " explained Inga Stewart, who is Consultant Clinic Psychologist at St. Andrew's, and has worked closely with Drew.
"That's been really quite magical," she added.
Drew brought smiles to a room full of carers' faces as he got up close and personal to Jurassic World dinosaurs in another VR "visit".
"It's a dinosaur! Coming out of the trees!" he shouted, jumping the next time another one appeared.
Dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by strokes or diseases such as Alzheimer's. People with dementia can suffer from memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.
There are over 850,000 people living with some form of dementia in Britain, with that number estimated to rise to one million by 2025, according to charity the Alzheimer's Society.
The research at St. Andrew's was carried out on eight patients with different types of dementia including Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease and at different stages of the illness, between the ages of 41 and 88-years-old. Carers and researchers were delighted with the positive results.
"What we find is that in the virtual environment or having been in the virtual environment, that these people will be talking about their past experiences, they'll be reminiscing about things early in their life maybe, it might make them think about their jobs or holidays," Stewart said.
After the success of the trial, Jim Ang, who conducted the research along with a PhD candidate from Kent University's School of Engineering and Digital Arts (EDA), said they were developing the technology to try and give patients a more personal experience.
He said they are currently working on the "holy grail" of VR: for patients and their families being able to generate their own virtual reality content.
"Imagine if you have an iPad where you can just point the picture of a family member and drag it over to a seaside picture and they all merge automatically together nicely, blended nicely, that would be one possible way to basically simplify the kind of software photo editing package that allow non-experts to generate this kind of content," Ang said.
Carers at St. Andrews are also excited to see what could happen next.
"We've only just scratched the surface," Stewart said.
"There's so much more that we could do in targeted reminiscence, in personalised messages perhaps from family members, so I think this is really just starting and there's lots that can be done with it."
In the meantime, the VR technology made Drew a very happy man.
And as for his favourite VR trip, motorbikes or being surrounded by dinosaurs?
"The dinosaur," he said. "So fascinating."
(Production: Stuart McDill, Emily Roe)
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