As a nurse working part time in care of the elderly with Dementia, and part time in Indie Game development, I decided to research the possible applications of Virtual Reality in the field of Dementia Care.
There are already a few very interesting and clever ways that technology is being used to help the general public understand what it is like to live with Dementia. As people are living to more advanced ages this is an illness that is on the increase, and many of us will be affected, either by the disease itself or by its effect on our nearest and dearest. By understanding what it is like for people living with Dementia, we will gain empathy that will affect our approach to, and treatment of, people suffering from the disease.
The Virtual Dementia Experience – Walk a mile in my shoes
The award-winning Virtual Dementia Experience designed by Opaque Multimedia is one of the ways that VR is being used to help increase understanding of the illness.
They used Epic’s Unreal Engine 3 to create a virtual environment, that can be freely explored and interacted with by the user, and also be reconfigured by teachers and presenters, to give an appreciation of the problems that Dementia sufferers can experience .
VDE with user.
Their first video shows the 10×2.5m screen that the user sees the images on, whilst using a Kinect based interface. Sounds are used to illustrate sensory and cognitive disturbances. This version is currently being used in Alzheimer Australia’s Dementia Learning Center, and is used by care workers, the general public, and architects of spaces used by people with Dementia.
Oculus dementia adventure
Opaque Multimedia are in the process of developing an upgrade to the Virtual Dementia Experience that is designed for Oculus Rift. This will be a technology and content upgrade and is due for release shortly. In the meantime it was unveiled at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco. Trials indicate that the initial engagement with the Oculus is more powerful, and it will be more accessible to use in restricted spaces as it cuts out the need for large screens. This will make it ideal for use training care staff within care homes,education programmes in schools and colleges, raising the awareness of the general public at exhibitions and walk-in facilities, and so much more. We’ll keep you informed when the release is announced and when it is available in the UK.
Facebook users can experience the effects of dementia by downloading the Facedementia app by Alzheimer’s Research UK. This app ”takes over” your facebook pages, temporarily erasing photos, details and status to mimic how dementia affects the brain. Your real page stays intact, the idea is to show how thoughts and memories can be confused or forgotten.
I didn’t find any VR programmes that are designed for people with dementia yet, but the scientific study ”Cyberpsychology and Behaviour” at http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/109493103322725379 found that it is feasible to use Virtual Environments to work with people with dementia. The NHS is working on the infinite number of possibilities that VR is opening up, including VR Ultrasound training, VR autism treatments and VR colorectal surgery courses, among many others,so hopefully we’ll see more advances in the field of Dementia.
With VR boiling into the mainstream the possibilities are limitless.