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Doctors Are Using Virtual Reality To Treat People With Dementia

Dominic Smithers

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Doctors Are Using Virtual Reality To Treat People With Dementia

Around 50 million people currently suffer from dementia. It's a condition that ruins lives, taking away not only a person's independence and dignity, but also some of their most precious memories of friends and family.

But in a major breakthrough in fighting the disease, doctors are using virtual reality (VR) to allow patients to walk with dinosaurs.

A study carried out by St Andrew's Healthcare and the University of Kent gave a group of eight dementia patients - aged 41 to 88 - a variety of virtual scenarios to explore, such as hiking in the Alps, riding bikes and walking along sandy beaches, in a bid to evoke memories new and old.

A total of 16 VR sessions were carried out during the study, with feedback given by patients and their caregivers.

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One of those who took part in the study was Drew, from Scotland, who watched a leaf-eating brontosaurus stroll around a forest clearing.

During the session, the 85-year-old said: "I've never seen anything like it! It's like the Loch Ness monster."

Specialists found the VR experience left a lasting impression on Drew, who returned to his ward and spoke to other patients about what he had done before painting a picture of the dinosaurs during an art class.

Dr Inga Stewart, a consultant clinical psychologist who was part of the study, said experiences like this were shown to unlock memories from a patient's past.

Drew was given the opportunity to walk with dinosaurs, which evoked memories of his old dog. Credit: St Andrew's Healthcare
Drew was given the opportunity to walk with dinosaurs, which evoked memories of his old dog. Credit: St Andrew's Healthcare

Speaking to LADbible, she said: "It was amazing to watch Drew come to life during the VR video. The virtual environment that Drew experienced in the video featured dinosaurs; this triggered memories of his pet dog and childhood tales of the Loch Ness Monster.

"It demonstrates that VR can be another tool which helps people living with dementia to increase their quality of life.

"We hope in future that we can personalise this experience even more for patients in our care, so for example, generating opportunities for people to revisit memorable places from their past."

Dementia is a degenerative disease involving a deterioration in a range of cognitive functions, such as memory, speech, movement, thinking and calculation.

But according to Dr Stewart, early signs from the study show that VR has the potential to vastly improve lives of millions of people around the world.

Doctors believe VR has the power to improve the lives of millions of patients and carers around the world. Credit: St Andrew's Healthcare
Doctors believe VR has the power to improve the lives of millions of patients and carers around the world. Credit: St Andrew's Healthcare

She said: "I believe it can improve both wellbeing and patients' quality of life. It is accessible, something a person can look at now and go back to as many times as they wish. It gives patients an opportunity to visit places they may have never been to or are unable to get to, without having to wait or travel.

"There is a significant social element; after a session, people tell others about the experience. Experiences like these, which are out of the norm, also give people an opportunity to generate new conversations and engage socially."

And she says it may not be long before we see VR being used in mainstream medicine.

She added: "I think we're close. Here at St Andrew's Healthcare we are increasingly using virtual reality in a clinical setting.

"We've shared advice with other care providers on how to use it clinically, with the maximum impact for people living with dementia."

Featured Image Credit: St Andrew's Healthcare

Topics: UK News, Daily Ladness, Technology, Health

Dominic Smithers
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