Phenomenal Results When Using Virtual Reality for Dementia

I created this blogging site a few years ago to capture news, relevant immersive growth and my own musings of the industry. As we approach the end of another year I thought I should share my own personal learning with you. I set up Pivotal Reality Ltd 2 years ago and my main aim was to explore using virtual reality with people who are living with dementia. VR is a powerful medium that transports people to another place and potentially another time too. I was curious whether I could do good with this technology that I loved and help others at the same time. If you are a new startup or are curious to hear more about how this all came about then take a moment to read Lenovo StoryHub: Restoring Memories Frontiers of Treating Dementia with VR.

I’ve been volunteering in care homes and have so much to share with you but the main headlines are that VR is simply amazing in this setting. Initially I was concerned about whether anybody would want to try the headset or whether they may be put off. My experience is that the majority jump right in, others need a little reassurance by seeing a casting livestream before trying it (something we didn’t even have when I started on this journey but thankfully things are much simpler these days!) and a tiny proportion refused due to medical conditions (eg severe vertigo & eye conditions). Before starting I would advise to adhere to the headset manufacturers health and safety advice and explore compatibility. As a side note, if you are unsure about the VR headset market for elders or people living with dementia then get in touch – although anything that doesn’t require a mobile phone is more than adequate. Mobile phone VR can cause nausea and is extremely outdated in terms of where we are at with the technology today. In all of my sessions I have asked that people remain seated and I avoid swivel chairs and wired headsets for the obvious health and safety concerns. It goes without saying but permanent supervision is a must too. Industry standards is an area that my good friend, David De Jong and I are working together on. David has been focusing on the training side of elder care in care homes with Patyna. Hopefully we will have more to share on this topic soon.

Virtual Reality for dementia

The Research

Believe it or not there is an ever growing catalogue of research papers into this niche area of MedTech. There’s also a lot of research into specific areas that I was interested in – for me my themes are ‘immersive reminiscence’ (VR that promotes improved memory), immersive meditation/mindfulness and combatting loneliness. Meaning that I could study broader areas of virtual reality research papers & use cases to draw parallels for my own work. I would caution that you pay attention to the number of subjects involved in the scenarios and warn that sometimes the conclusions are confusing! As a non-academic myself the lack of plain English and sometimes the actual outcome being unclear was frustrating. I’m thinking about creating a list of all the research papers I’ve found useful and wondered if making these available via email would benefit anyone? I want to be able to help others by saving time so they don’t have to spend the hours that I have to just sift through the vast amounts of research papers to find those most relevant. You can get in touch and let me know if that would be useful at all.

Proud as punch holding my published chapter ‘A Showcase of Medical, Therapeutic and Pastime Uses of Virtual Reality (VR) and How (VR) Is Impacting the Dementia Sector’ in the Biomedical Visualisation Volume 3 from the Springer series.

Part of this incredible story is that I wrote a chapter for a Springer series book that was published. To others that might seem normal but in my world, this is simply unheard of. I’m incredible proud of myself and as cheesy as it sounds I consider it one of my ultimate life achievements, I seriously do. The book is priced out of my own price range so I have one precious copy that is shared around family members to read… ha! Madness but a true story. The chapter itself was detailing all of my market research when scouting the industry for use cases for VR & dementia. There are so many angles to approach how you can use this technology for this problem. There’s also a handful of amazing trailblazers who are building the paths for others to follow. But there is room for you and so many others so do not be put off by other players. We have an Ageing population across the globe thanks to medical advances (hooray!) but we still haven’t found a cure for Dementia. Until we do, I think it’s important to reach as many people living with the disease to help do what we can to help improve their quality of life. Yes, even a 15 minute VR session can make all the difference to someone.

My Findings

The impact of using virtual reality with pretty much anyone is an instant reaction and the same goes with someone who is living with dementia too. It’s transformational and I would argue even more so when you place the headset on an elderly person. Kids get VR, they just get it and its natural for them to look around, walk around and just get on with it. Its not quite a natural for people living in a care home environment. You need to remind most people to look around with their head because most will only look around the place using only their eyes. Especially so when its their 1st time using the technology.

The phenomenal power of VR that I have been part of or observed

The picture above shows the phenomenal drops in the ocean that I have witnessed. There are many others I can share such as an artist sitting enjoying the mesmerising colours within VR environments for an extended period of time. Others being ecstatic about experiencing things they never thought possible. You need to see it to believe it and I urge you to let your nearest & dearest experience it to see the outcomes for yourself! Its one of the most endearing activities I’ve ever done.

What’s next?

For Pivotal Reality, I’m going to be exploring building content. We already have a VR environment but I want to fill it with meaningful content from my design & experiences research. It’s a bit of a long game for me personally as I venture into the world of Unity and coding ideas for the 1st time. I’m also exploring hand tracking more closely because controllers are a barrier presently – especially for those with limited hand functionality & grip. Oculus have released their Hand Tracking update so I plan to explore that as well as play around with the Leap Motion (now Ultra Leap) sensor. There is a lack of tailored content that meets the needs of those living with dementia or indeed for the elderly population which needs addressed too.

Sadly, the value of bringing ‘joy’ and ‘meaning’ or ‘therapeutic outlet’ to people doesn’t quantify a strong ‘return of investment’ or solid business model especially because it can be difficult to ‘scale’ – at least as far as I have discovered. I joined the Transformative Technology Academy to try and learn from others who are innovating with new technologies to help improve humanity. Common sense tells us that it is harder to be one of the 1st when trying to navigate uncharted waters. However, I’m passionate about this technology and will endeavour to continue exploring this area whilst improving my skills in this industry.

Thanks for reading about my work and feel free to get in touch.