Tackling Dementia With Virtual Reality

Companies Are Using VR To Connect Us With Our Memories

12.04.2018 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo by VR4Therapy
Photo by VR4Therapy

The statistics around dementia make for a sobering read. Someone in the world develops the debilitating symptoms every 3 seconds. The number of people living with dementia increased by 46.8 million in 2015 to over 50 million people in 2017, with scientists claiming that this number is expected to double every 20 years.

As an estimated 131.5 million people expected to suffer from dementia by 2050, it is no surprise that leaders in business and technology are now spearheading innovative methods of tackling the condition and its effects.

Recent studies and experiments have found that triggering happy memories from the past has the potential to greatly improve the comfort and well-being of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Unresponsive and unhappy subjects have reconnected with old memories through the medium of music, linking them back to their past whilst re-triggering their sense of identity and memory. However, new advancements in technology have presented virtual and augmented reality as a means of stimulating those affected by the condition.

Across the UK, various companies and technologies have emerged which strive to improve the lives of dementia sufferers. One such example is The Wayback Project, an augmented and virtual reality firm which has seen its product trialled in progressive care homes across the UK.

Presenting their virtual reality as an affordable way to stimulate conversation in such patients, The Wayback Project has become celebrated for its series of free-to-use, 360-degree virtual reality films that recreate popular, positive moments from our collective past.

Like many social enterprises, The Wayback Project found its roots in the experiences of its founders. The idea was originally conceived when Dan Cole, co-founder of The Wayback Project took a drive through North London’s Camden area with his father, who was suffering from dementia. Seeing streets, alleys and roads brought back memories for his father, who was clearly engaged and willing to communicate his experiences from the passenger seat of the car.The drive through Camden eventually led to the series of films which now lets dementia suffers reconnect with historic moments, thanks to a collation of photographs, music, actors, costumes and the capabilities of VR technology.

Like The Wayback Project, Alzheimer’s Research UK have also championed the emerging technology to raise awareness of the condition. A Walk Through Dementia is the new app which takes smartphone users through the various experiences of an affected patient. In each experience, the app demonstrates symptoms that pose challenges to people with dementia, including the supermarket, the roads and life at home.

As immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality continue to develop, it is clear that dementia and Alzheimer’s are witnessing the development of new methods of care – dismissing claims that the concept belongs solely to the world of video gaming.

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"It was the idea you could move forward by going back, maybe use those memories as a starting point for a shared experience.” - Dan Cole, The Wayback Project

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