Nav: Home

Virtual reality may help students experience life with dementia first hand

July 23, 2018

Chicago, July 23, 2018 - Virtual reality technology gives high school students greater insight into what it's like to be Alfred -- a 74-year-old African American man with suspected mild cognitive impairment (MCI), plus age-related vision and hearing loss, or Beatriz, a middle-aged Latina, as she progresses through the continuum of Alzheimer's disease.

By experiencing aspects of someone else's journey, the students may gain a better understanding of, and empathy for, older adults and their struggles with dementia. Details of the virtual reality learning program were reported today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2018 in Chicago.

The virtual reality (VR) simulation was incorporated into a training program for about 20 high school students at Northside College Preparatory School in Chicago. Used as part of the Bringing Art to Life program, the goal of the VR training was to better prepare the young people to interact with older adults with Alzheimer's and other dementias at long-term care facilities and adult day care centers. The Alfred and Beatriz modules will next be used with undergraduate students volunteering in the Bringing Art to Life program at the University of Alabama next spring.

Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN, of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, is a neurologist who created the Bringing Art to Life Program after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Potts found his father had a talent for watercolor painting during his art therapy at an adult day care center.

"What we're hearing from the students is that experiencing the virtual reality training before they volunteer improves their empathy and increases enthusiasm for working with the seniors -- two documented outcomes of our program," said Potts. "It also may decrease the stigma and their negative attitudes about older people." It has also increased interest in health care careers among the students.

The Alfred module is a live-action film, depicting the world as experienced by a 74-year-old with MCI, macular degeneration and high frequency hearing loss. The Beatriz module includes five-minute stories of a middle-aged Latina as she experiences the early, middle and later aspects of Alzheimer's disease dementia. The stories take the participant through a digital version of what it's like to be at the grocery store, struggling with other activities of daily living and sundowning -- when dementia-related confusion and agitation get worse later in the day.

"Technology like this may be useful in expanding awareness about what it is like to have Alzheimer's disease dementia," said Beth Kallmyer, MSW, Vice President of Care and Support for the Alzheimer's Association. "It's interesting that the creators of the modules also highlight other issues that some people experience as they age, including communicating inappropriately with others because they may not be able to see or hear well, in addition to the memory problems that are common for persons with Alzheimer's."

Neelum Aggarwal, MD, of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, helped Shaw develop the Beatriz module and how to visualize what is happening in the brain with Alzheimer's disease. "I'm often asked -- what does it feel like to have dementia? These virtual reality modules can help others experience that," said Dr. Aggarwal. "For the students, it's a good check to see if they have empathy for their patients and are aware of any biases they may have towards people with dementia."

Rush will recruit 60 medical and pharmacy students and research assistants to participate in virtual reality training and the Bringing Art to Life program this September in Chicago. Dr. Aggarwal also works with Chicago Methodist Senior Services who use the virtual reality modules for training staff to better understand what it feels like to have dementia and build empathy.

The creator of the virtual reality modules, Carrie Shaw of Embodied Labs, Los Angeles, became a caregiver in her teens when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. "I wanted to understand what my Mom was going through with this disease and virtual reality allows us to recreate some of the perspective of someone living with Alzheimer's," said Shaw.

"Every patient is a person and has a story," notes Shaw. "We want to help explain the science of what's happening in the brain with the story of the person who has the dementia that will allow caregivers to be better providers and communicators."
-end-
The Alzheimer's Association International Conference:

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) is the world's largest gathering of researchers from around the world focused on Alzheimer's and other dementias. As a part of the Alzheimer's Association's research program, AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia and fostering a vital, collegial research community. AAIC 2018 home page: alz.org/aaic

AAIC 2018 newsroom: alz.org/aaic/press

About the Alzheimer's Association:

The Alzheimer's Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.

Alzheimer's Association

Related Dementia Articles:

Latest issue of Alzheimer's & Dementia
Predicting heart disease might also be a warning sign for Alzheimer's; A new way to think about the environment and Alzheimer's research; Most dementia patients don't receive care from physicians who specialize in brain health.
What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia
A strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of developing dementia, says a new University of Waterloo study.
Brain changes may help track dementia, even before diagnosis
Even before a dementia diagnosis, people with mild cognitive impairment may have different changes in the brain depending on what type of dementia they have, according to a study published in the September 11, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Could marriage stave off dementia?
Dementia and marital status could be linked, according to a new Michigan State University study that found married people are less likely to experience dementia as they age.
Migraine diagnoses positively associated with all-cause dementia
Several studies have recently focused on the association between migraine headaches and other headaches and dementia and found a positive migraine-dementia relationship.
Apathy: The forgotten symptom of dementia
Apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia, with a bigger impact on function than memory loss -- yet it is under-researched and often forgotten in care.
Dementia looks different in brains of Hispanics
A major new study from the UC Davis Alzheimer's Center has uncovered dramatic differences in the brains of Hispanics with a dementia diagnosis compared with those of non-Hispanic whites and of African Americans.
No association between antiepileptic drug use and dementia
Epilepsy is a common neurological condition with a prevalence of around 2 percent.
Correlation of stroke and dementia with death: A study from the Swedish dementia registry
Patients who died of IS the most common type of dementia was vascular dementia while those died from other causes were most often diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia (AD).
Military risk factors for dementia
In recent years, there has been growing discussion to better understand the pathophysiological mechanisms of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and how they may be linked to an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease in veterans.
More Dementia News and Dementia Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.