Those without dementia reminisce about the past because they want to remember bygone days that spark pleasant memories. The trick is that they are ushered out of their reverie by their own will. Dementia patients often cannot. In advanced cases, the dementia patient may no longer understand reality, memories, and how to snap out of the past. Virtual reality (VR) software engages those suffering from dementia, connecting with unfettered past memories and connecting them with the here and now. Augmented reality that bridges the past and the present seems to reach those patients that time seems to have forgotten.
How Does VR Work?
Dementia patients can watch movies in 360-degree or virtual reality by using an inexpensive headset. This puts them in the midst of the action or "memory." Both 360-degree movies and virtual reality movies are produced with special cameras that record action in 360, instead of 180 degrees. These cameras are different because they record more than peripheral vision, they record spherical vision. Think of setting up a camera shot. The camera shoots what is in its field of sight. VR cameras record so that when you view the video, you are immersed into the scene, not looking at it as a bystander. For dementia patients, this is very important. Full immersion means connection.
The Effect VR Has On Mood and Behavior
Dementia, most commonly Alzheimer's, eventually makes patients feel out of touch with reality. If you've spent time with a loved one suffering from dementia, often the empty stares of moderate to advanced cases makes you wonder where the patient's mind is--what they are capable of recalling and how to converse with someone who has difficulty staying "in the now." So how do you connect? By giving them a lifeline into those deeply embedded memories that dementia has yet to damage. For instance, if someone was a ballerina, choosing a VR movie about dancing in the Nutcracker may open up happy memories of being on stage. Seemingly empty shells of dementia patients suddenly reminisce about how difficult, yet fun, it was to practice for such a production. Moods turn from fearful to smiles when immersed into the familiar.
Using VR as both therapy and entertainment for dementia patients is still in its infancy. But if you can recreate those lost memories, reaching for what the brain has taken away, perhaps 360-degree and VR technology can add some living to cognitively-impaired patients. If it helps, it's good medicine.