Virtual reality technology (VR) could greatly improve the quality of life for people with dementia by helping to recall past memories, reduce assault and improve interactions with carers, new research carried out by University Kent found.
The study, conducted by researchers from the School of Engineering and Digital Arts (EDA) of the University, including Dr Jim Ang and Luma Tabbaa PhD candidate, was hosted by St Andrew's mental health provider's Healthcare in Northampton.
Eight patients between 41 and 88 living with dementia including Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease participated in the study. Every patient used a VR tab to 'visit'; one of five virtual environments (VEs) cathedral, forest, sandy beach, rocky beach, and rural scene. Sixteen sessions were monitored and feedback was collected from patients and their carers.
One of the key findings was that VR helped patients remember old memories by providing a new stimulus that was difficult to achieve, due to ill health, or that it cannot be found in a secure environment. For example, one patient remembered a holiday when they saw a bridge in the VE as it reminded them of a trip and another person remembered a holiday they visited.
These memories not only provided patients with positive mental stimuli but helped their carers learn more about their lives before care, which improved their social interaction.
In addition, in an arts session several weeks later, one of the patients who took part said it was 'fantastic'. He seemed to enjoy recreating the experience and was encouraged to draw a seaside picture, suggesting that his VR experience had a positive impact on his mood and motivation to engage with the art session.
Patients also demonstrated their own choices during the experiment, and some were keen to explore different VEs within a session, while others explored the same environment over and over again.
Dr Ang from the EDA said that a more study was needed to validate the results, but early indications were that VR had huge potential in this area: 'VR has obviously positive benefits for patients'. with dementia, their families and carers. 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 VE aspects that benefit patients and use VR even more effectively. # 39;
The researchers said that, because it is easier to produce 360-degree VR videos, it may be possible to create specifically designed VEs for individual patients, for example their favorite home or location.
The Delivering: Delivering Accessible Experience through VR for People with Dementia in Psychiatric Locked Hospitals was presented at the CHI ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems which will be held in Glasgow 4-9 May. The results are also published Proceedings of SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems.
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