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VR technology helping dementia patients become reaccustomed to the world

While virtual reality or VR technology has existed for the past few decades, its utilisation was limited to the entertainment industry alone, until recently. Now, scientists and researchers are figuring out multiple other uses for VR. For instance, Reed Hayes, a student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, is currently exploring the advantages of VR technology in rehabilitating dementia patients.

How VR combats age-related mental degenerative disorders

Hayes claims he and Dennis – his classmate – visited a care centre to test out the effect of VR for the depressed, isolated and dementia-stricken elderly people. For the test, they created a VR simulation containing a 3D painting belonging to Vincent Van Gogh. The simulation also included a soothing piano track playing in the background.

He placed the VR headset on an elderly person, who was sitting quietly lost in thought. The immediate reaction stunned everyone in the room. The morose and sad looking test subject simply came alive, as Hayes explains it. He was no longer slouched or depressed. The VR simulation seemed to uplift is demeanour and disposition. He also started tapping his feet. This and subsequent other similar experiences with their experiment revealed to Hayes the potential for using virtual reality to help the elderly deal with dementia.

Rendever’s virtual reality system offers users a variety of games and activities like virtual scuba diving and hiking, and includes content from diverse sources that let users travel almost anywhere in the world. Courtesy of Rendever

Rendever’s journey

Hayes, along with Thomas Neumann and Kyle Rand founded a startup, called Rendever. The company has since managed to bring the VR rehabilitation facility to over 100 assisted living facilities. The trio has also helped incorporate the technology in some hospitals as well.

Hayes says that starting Rendever feels like one of the most important achievements of his life. Rendever’s VR experiences offer a range of games, such as hiking and scuba diving. However, the company’s greatest offering is a social VR experience, which involves linking the VR headsets of multiple subjects.

Grace Andruszkiewicz, the director of marketing and partnerships at Rendever, claims that the feeling is truly special when you see these elderly people not only engage with the virtual activity but also interact with others hooked on the headsets.

During the experience, the subjects also tend to recall memories from early parts of their life. This is a true achievement. – Grace Andruszkiewicz.

Closer to family

Another part of this rehabilitative VR experience from Rendever includes personal content, such as videos and photos uploaded by the family members of the elderly residents. Members from the family can either rent a 360-degree camera from the company or buy one to record the videos. This paves the way for sharing wedding, vacation and other memorable experiences with elderly family members staying at these facilities.

Rendever is continually adding and updating their content, based on feedback from residents. Subscriptions to the service include the headsets, a tablet, training, an extensive content library, warranties and support.

At present, the firm is trying to recreate the same positive results in the clinical trials for the technology. From a clinical perspective, it may be too early to definitively conclude the effects of VR on Dementia-stricken patients. However, Rendever’s success so far is a promising note for families suffering due to the degenerative neurological disorder.

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