Tackling dementia with virtual reality

Francis Douglas Memorial College technology students visited StaplesVR in Auckland. Photo/ Supplied

A new project will explore the effects virtual reality (VR) has on people living with dementia.

Alzheimers Taranaki’s project using Virtual Reality is one of six newly announced Curious Minds projects led by Venture Taranaki and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

Alzheimers Taranaki manager Helen Frank says the project is an extension of the work it completed in 2020.

“We did a study on how people with dementia react to virtual reality. We found not much research had been done on whether virtual reality is safe for people with dementia.”

She says during the study, they find positive benefits.

“We looked at how it impacted moods, sleeping patterns and other benefits. There were a lot of unexpected benefits. There were language developments. We created a program designed especially for people with dementia and we were able to cast it to another screen so we could see what they saw. It also meant other people interacted with it as well. It didn’t just impact one person but quite a few.”

Helen says after uncovering the positive benefits, she wanted to find out more so applied for funding through the Curious Minds project.

“We are grateful to receive this funding so we can continue exploring the effects.”

The new project will explore the VR-triggered memories and see if there are benefits on mood, language, memory and social cognition for both people living with dementia, and for older adults not living with dementia.

She says Alzheimers Taranaki will work with an independent researcher Dr Linda Jones and students from Francis Douglas Memorial College on the project.

“We’re excited to work with school students on this project. We are working with the technology students. They recently went to Auckland to visit StaplesVR who designed the virtual reality for us. The students gained insight to a virtual reality company to expand their knowledge in the field.”

Helen says the students are creating an easy-to-use guide on virtual reality.

“It will be beneficial for our volunteers who will guide people with and without dementia through virtual reality.”

Once they have their findings, she says they will be able to share them.

“We’re really excited about this, and discovering whether virtual reality can be a tool to help reminiscence and improve moods for people living with dementia.”

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