This article was taken from: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/comment/virtual-reality-apps-are-helping-people-understand-what-its-like-to-live-with-dementia/
By Anna Behrmann
The words “virtual reality” and “dementia” do not seem to fit naturally together, but it could potentially be the key to understanding an incredibly complex condition. When my grandmother, Ninette, developed Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia, I watched an intelligent and independent woman who did the crossword every day and wrote witty poetry on my birthday, become increasingly confused.
She still kept up much of her humour and recognised our family’s faces, if not our names, until the end, but her thought patterns were tangled. I knew she had lost large parts of her memory, but I found it very difficult to empathise with how she felt or understand the ways in which her world had changed.
So I think it is brilliant there are now immersive virtual reality apps which are designed to put people in the shoes of those with dementia. It could revolutionise the care that people with dementia are given – and all frontline health staff, from cleaners to clinical directors, as well as the families of those with dementia, should use them.
More than 850,000 people have dementia in the UK, and the number is growing. The recently launched app Dementia First Hand, funded by the Welsh Government, forces you to negotiate a range of confusing scenarios, as you struggle to remember which pills to take. A Walk Through Dementia, developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK, shows you how difficult it becomes to make tea, grappling with a faltering inner monologue.
‘A Walk Through Dementia, developed by Alzheimer’s Research UK, shows you how difficult it becomes to make tea, grappling with a faltering inner monologue’
A few years after my grandmother passed away, I took part in some innovative dementia training with healthcare staff at the Royal Free Hospital in London as a reporter for a local paper. It was a frightening insight into what it is like to have the condition.
The dementia trainer slipped a headset over my head, with a smartphone fixed to the front displaying the virtual reality of a different room from the one I was standing in. I had to stumble along as the staff around me barked blunt instructions to guide me towards the bathroom or the bed. I was seeing a different landscape to them and so their words did not make any sense – I became disorientated and lost my sense of direction. I felt embarrassed, self-conscious and gradually more frustrated.
I was told to look for a friend in a red coat, but she kept vanishing behind the squiggles and paintings in the hazy room. I was asked to sit down, but when I finally found a chair I was told it was the wrong one. I felt clumsy and, actually, increasingly angry. How was I to know what chair to go to? Which instruction was I meant to be listening to? Why was no one using my name?
It was a lesson designed to show me what it is like to be bossed around by impersonal healthcare assistants and, crucially, how people with dementia are living in an alternative reality. It also taught me how dementia can affect people’s sight and sensory perceptions.
It is a cruel game to put yourself through, but I would recommend that anyone who knows someone with dementia should try an app such as A Walk Through Dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK sells an inexpensive cardboard headset to go with the app through its website.
Hopefully, there will be medical advances, but until then, dementia could be anyone’s reality.