11th Apr 2017

Virtual Reality can help dementia treatment

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older woman experiments with virtual reality headset
Ben Hocking

An aged care operator in Melbourne made an unexpected and welcome discovery after introducing Virtual Reality (VR) headsets for use among residents – it helped dementia patients access memories, and improved their communication.

Mercy Health introduced the VR sets at two of its aged care homes to entertain residents, but the operator’s health lifestyle and volunteer manager, Karren Gooding, found it was having an exceptional effect on the centre’s 22 patients who were living with dementia.

Ms Gooding told the Huffington Post Australia that the VR sets triggered early memories and encouraged dementia residents to be more communicative about their experiences.

"We've seen some residents that were extremely isolated, not communicating much, (and are) now engaging in conversation, out with other residents," Ms Gooding said.



"Basically, the results we are seeing have been fantastic and they have certainly outdone our expectations."

Ms Gooding said that after being shown a virtual tour of Rome and Venice, one patient’s memories of a boat trip to Australia were triggered, and was willing and able to share his experiences.

Alzheimer’s Australia has also had some encouraging results after experimenting with VR technology among people living with dementia.

Trials of a VR game called Virtual Forest have led to a drastic reduction in the level of medication being used by dementia patients.

The game allows users to sit in front of a screen and use simple hand movements to change the landscape shown in the game, such as butterflies fluttering through flowers, a boat floating around a pond or a family of ducks splashing about in the water.

The Lifeview Residential Care facility played a critical role in testing and developing the game, and the operator’s CEO Madeline Gall was excited about the results witnessed in their patients who were living with dementia.

“To see this technology in action is extremely heart-warming. Watching the faces of residents living with dementia light up as they realise they are in control only reinforces Lifeview’s decision to assist in bringing this technology to life,” Ms Gall said.

Dr Tanya Petrovich, a tech developer with Alzheimer's Australia, said early findings showed that the virtual reality experience made significant changes to the quality of life of many users.

“Trials found a 64 per cent reduction in the use of antipsychotics,” Dr Petrovich said.

"If we can actually reduce the amount of medications that people live on, they have a much better quality of life.”

VR devices have also proven to have a positive effect on stroke survivors and people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

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