Virtual reality and dementia

Are we there yet? Immersive Virtual Reality to improve cognitive function in Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Meelad Sayma , Remco Tuijt , Claudia Cooper , Kate Walters Gerontologist, 2020 Sep 15;60(7):e502-e512

Summary: The researchers recognise that cognitive training therapies, like the Cognitive Stimulation therapy programmes offered by Alzheimers Otago, can delay cognitive deterioration in people with dementia. They identified that new technologies such as immersive virtual reality (IVR) may be a way that cognitive therapies could be delivered to people with dementia. The researchers sought to review the evidence for IVR as an effective therapy tool for people with dementia.

How was the research done: The researchers identified 2,824 research articles relevant to IVR for people with dementia. From this, they identified 5 articles for inclusion in their review. One article originated from Australia, one from France, two from Italy and one from Canada. The researchers reviewed the articles to assess the effectiveness of virtual reality therapies for people with dementia.

What they found out: The researchers were unable to reach a definitive conclusion as there were so few studies on the topic and the studies that were available had very small sample sizes. However, 4 of the 5 studies showed that people with dementia prefer and enjoy virtual reality based interventions.

What it might mean for people with Dementia: While Alzheimers Otago won’t be shifting to delivering Virtual Reality-based interventions in place of our cognitive stimulation therapy programmes in the near future it is certainly useful to keep an eye on how these new technologies are developing and particularly interesting to see that many people with dementia are responding well to the technology. There is certainly no evidence that undertaking this kind of intervention would cause harm or further deterioration to a person with dementia, therefore we continue to keep an open mind on new ways of delivering services and support to people with dementia. Given how rapidly technology can develop and how quickly technology can find its way into our every day use, we may well see virtual reality interventions become the norm in the future!

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