Elder Law Firm of Andrew Olsen

How Virtual Reality is Transforming Dementia Care

January 19, 2017

Elder law requires attorneys to stay abreast of changes in the law as well as changes in care of elder patients.  Medical treatment and care for elderly patients may sometimes take a holistic approach, and treatment providers are seeing some success from these approaches.  For example, those new virtual reality gadgets are seeing more play outside of the traditional techie/gamer stereotypes.  Two Australian studies have shown how virtual reality could assist in sensory therapy for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  State-side, some physicians are seeing dramatic results from use of virtual reality with dementia patients.

Virtual reality experiences tailored to dementia patients depicts 3D imaging of beautiful places to travel and natural landscapes to explore.  It is believed that those with dementia undergo perceptual disturbances, where the brain is unable to interpret the environment accurately. However, those who are using virtual reality as sensory therapy report that the 3D experiences offer dramatic relief—even in late-stage Alzheimer’s patients—by triggering memories and positive emotions.

In one physician’s experience, a non-verbal dementia patient began to effectively communicate again after experiencing the virtual reality of a tropical locale.  Another success story attributed to virtual reality is how a detached dementia patient was transformed into an alert, relaxed, and engaged patient after experiencing a peaceful scuba diving virtual reality program.  Some physicians have seen these positive effects last for several weeks.

Gaming technology is no stranger to treatment for the elderly. Not long ago, the Nintendo Wii was touted for its success in promoting exercise and activity in nursing homes.  Moreover, gaming technology has long been used in medical advancements for robotic surgery, training, phobia treatment, and as a diagnostics tool.

While dementia patients benefit from virtual reality, caregivers also receive positive effects from the same technology.  Through virtual reality, caregivers can view first-hand how life with dementia looks like.  For example, virtual reality has shown caregivers how a relatively simple task like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night can be affected by dementia.  Caregivers who have viewed dementia through the lens of virtual reality were perceived to have grown an increased sense of awareness and empathy for dementia patients.  With virtual reality, caregivers can learn dementia-friendly principles that allow dementia patients to have a more positive life, which will effectively enable them to live in their homes for a longer period of time.

While virtual reality is just one advancement in dementia treatment, virtual reality may promise drastic relief to patients and caregivers alike.  Elder law attorneys who are familiar with these approaches can help direct clients in planning for long-term care.

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