Aging column: Virtual reality and Alzheimer’s care
With the advent of virtual reality (also commonly referred to as VR), there has been a lot of talk in tech and entertainment about what this new technology means for those industries. But VR is expected to have a much wider-reaching impact, and it is already affecting the way some doctors approach Alzheimer’s and health care in general.
Risk-Detection as Young as Age 18
Alzheimer’s has already become remarkably easier to detect thanks to VR technology. In October of last year, German Alzheimer’s care scientists published a study in which they used a virtual maze to help detect Alzheimer’s. In the study, the scientists tested people between 18 and 30 years old and had them try to navigate a VR maze.
Amazingly, this test proved successful. Based on how different people moved through the maze, the scientists were able to accurately identify which subjects held genetic markers for Alzheimer’s. This means that with the help of VR, scientists can diagnose high-risk patients as young as 18 years old, allowing families to plan for future Alzheimer’s care.
Virtual Environment Help Treat Patients
VR has already made its way into Alzheimer’s treatment in a handful of trials by leading Alzheimer’s care professionals. One such trial, performed in 2014, used Microsoft Kinect technology to create peaceful scenes — such as a sunlit forest — that Alzheimer’s sufferers were able to interact with.
Another utilization of VR has allowed patients to explore environments and take part in activities like skiing and scuba diving. This was accomplished using a technology called CAREN (Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment). Originally, CAREN was developed to assist Israeli soldiers rehabilitate; however, the technology is also being used to help people recover from traumatic life events and manage paranoia.
The Future of VR & Alzheimer’s Care
Since virtual reality is still in its infancy, it is tough to predict exactly how much of an impact this technology will have on Alzheimer’s care. Many people see a lot of potential in VR’s therapeutic uses, and as the technology becomes more widespread, accessible, and affordable we may see VR play a much bigger role in many facets of health care. One exciting possibility is the creation of virtual environments that remind Alzheimer’s patients of their childhoods. It may even be possible to create customized environments for individual patients, introducing music or details that are particularly soothing.
VR and medical procedures
At UC Davis, VR technology has already found a place in cardiology. The university has developed a Virtual Care Center with simulations in heart catheterization. They are also developing training applications that include performing a colonoscopy, endoscopy and even organ transplant surgery.
At the Royal London Hospital, a doctor recently performed a colon cancer operation that was broadcast on smart phones and VR headsets.
VR will play a major role in aiding people with cognitive issues. As the technology becomes more prevalent, we will see people’s ability to keep the mind sharp and in tune with virtual training in motor development, spatial awareness and other cognitive tasks.
The technology is not only proving successful in assisting the elderly, but it is lending itself to help medical professionals and caregivers learn how to interact with persons having Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield County. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.
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