Currently, there are studies being done to find out how VR can help dementia patients recall memories, and plenty of the results have proved to be successful. When it comes to the caregivers in charge of assisting with dementia patients, VR offers even further help.
So how, exactly, is this technology helping dementia caregivers? Essentially, by helping them experience the limitations dementia symptoms impose.
It’s nearly impossible for people without dementia to understand completely the frustrations and trials that come with memory loss. Sometimes even the most capable and trained healthcare professionals will unwillingly become impatient with people with dementia — but VR is here to help combat that.
The Virtual Dementia Tour was created by Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit dedicated to changing the perception of aging through educational programs and by offering dream fulfillment.
The program draws on research conducted by P.K. Beville, M.S., a specialist in geriatrics and the founder of Second Wind Dreams. The tour draws on patented sensory tools to lead users through an altered experience of everyday life. People going on the Virtual Tour are given limiting devices like gloves, glasses, and headphones that simulate some of the physical difficulties that dementia presents like loss of peripheral vision and reduced motor skills. They’re then asked to complete tasks like folding towels and finding and putting on certain items of clothing — everyday necessities that are easy to take for granted, but often extremely difficult for those with dementia to accomplish.
“Virtual reality technology has the potential to give caregivers, medical students and others greater insight into what it’s like to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), age-related vision and hearing loss, or to progress through the continuum of Alzheimer’s disease,” Keith Fargo, PhD, director of scientific programs & outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association told Considerable.
“By experiencing aspects of someone else’s journey, individuals may gain a better understanding of, and empathy for, older adults and their struggles with dementia. While more research is needed, technology like this may be useful in expanding awareness about what it is like to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”
The idea is that by attempting to accomplish tasks with the challenges that dementia patients face regularly, their caregivers will have a greater sense of empathy and understanding about what their patients regularly go through. That way, caregivers will be able to better communicate with their patients about their needs, pains, and struggles.
“For me it has changed my attitude,” an anonymous caregiver said in a testimonial on the Second Wind Dreams website. “I now recognize that there are reasonable explanations for behaviors. The person needs to be understood in the context of their life history, what is important/unique to them.
“People need clear simple instructions, breaking down tasks and they need positive reinforcement and understanding. Above all people with dementia need to feel valued and their achievements, even if small, need to be recognized.”
The Virtual Dementia Tour’s destination: a deeper level of understanding and shared experience between patient and caretaker.