As my regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of technology. It is my pleasure to host an exciting guest post about virtual reality possibilities for dementia care. This is really exciting stuff! Today's guest blogger is Gillian Douglass, medical writer for Oxley Homecare in NSW, Australia.
We’ve all heard the jokes about not giving Grandma or Grandpa the remote control, or leaving them alone to program the DVD player, but what about technology that could literally transport Nonno back to the canals of Venice, or take Grandma back to the seaside village where she grew up, without her going anywhere? It’s real and it’s already making a big impact on how we look after and engage dementia care patients. Alzheimer’s Australia has been trialling various virtual reality technologies, and an app, throughout care facilities in Victoria, and it’s taking off. The impact on patient wellbeing, and carers, is dramatic too.
As more and more facilities give patients access to virtual reality helmets, kinect technology like that found on the X Box, or an app, the positive results and heart-warming stories continue to flood in. Patients can see a screen projected on a wall, on a monitor, or when they wear the helmet and select from various scenes including aquatic, travel, animals, relaxation and adventure. A trip to Bali, the sea, the snow, are all made possible again. The sights, sounds, colour and 360-degree views provide a full immersion for the senses.
MORE STIMULATION, LESS MEDICATION
As a way of stimulating and engaging dementia patients, virtual reality is non-invasive, portable, and the the envy of most 15-25 year olds around the world!
Stories of the positive impact include residents who have been screaming or moaning stopping, or who cry tears of joy at the memories and sensory stimulation provided by different scenes they can live again through virtual reality. There are others who begin laughing again, and improvements in patient management are starting to become well documented among residents who get to try out a Virtual Reality helmet.
Trials of a simple screen projected Virtual Forest have even lead to a 64% reduction in the use of antipsychotic medication among participants. Engaging elements such as butterflies floating around, flowers blooming and rowboats have a calming effect. “If we can actually reduce the amount of medications that patients live on, they have a much better quality of life,” Dr Tanya Petrovich, a Tech Developer with Alzheimers Australia, told the ABC for a news report.
For caregivers, access to the virtual reality experience is helping occupy long hours when patients might have nothing else to do, or no stimulation, as well as manage patient behaviour. They can also see what the patient is seeing, so they’re able to guide them through the experience, and tell what they do or don’t like.
TEACHING EMPATHY THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
Apart from the usefulness for caregivers, different aspects of the technology are also teaching those who don’t have dementia empathy.
A smartphone app, called the VirtualDementia Experience, is also being used in workshops to enhance the learning and increase compassion. Alzheimers Australia has reported a threefold increase in empathy and compassion markers from participants who used the interactive game, which is projected onto a wall through the smartphone or tablet with the app, compared to those who learnt the same information without the game.
The app has been around since 2013, with more features being added since then. Another app from Google, called Cardboard, is also available.
It might not be physically possible to take an elderly relative with dementia on a plane, or transport them to the forest or the beach, but their senses can be taken back there once again in the safety of their armchair. All it takes is a simple helmet to be worn on their head.