The Los Angeles-based health organization Embodied Labs is helping caregivers gain a clearer understanding of what it’s like to have dementia through the use of virtual reality (VR) technology. Currently, dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other similar illnesses affects over 5 million Americans, and Embodied Lab’s founder Carrie Shaw’s mother was one of them.
After creating a pair of goggles to help alleviate her mother’s visual impairment, Shaw was inspired to remake the perspective of someone diagnosed with AD, so a family member or a caregiver can have a better grasp of their needs. Fast-forward to the present day, and Shaw’s company offers various VR experiences that tap into the world of someone diagnosed with a disease or condition, such as AD, Lewy body dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
Virtual Reality as a Treatment for Dementia
By definition, dementia is a collective term for conditions and diseases that indicate a person’s cognitive decline, with its symptoms showing deterioration in memory, language, and other thinking skills. All these affect a person’s ability to live a normal day-to-day life. However, it is a much deeper problem for those diagnosed with it, and the caregivers who nurse them, because with no cure in sight, it presents many challenges.
Indeed, the Alzheimer’s Association points out that twice as many caregivers looking after people with dementia experience emotional, financial, and physical strain compared to the health aides of people without it. This is why Embodied Labs’ VR experiences can make huge strides when it comes to dementia treatment, as caregivers can assume the role of their dementia patients.
Since people suffering from dementia have trouble communicating, caregivers who immerse themselves in their world will have a stronger grasp of how they can treat their patients. What’s more, they can also develop a more profound sense of empathy for their patients’ many daily challenges.
In this light, one of their VR experiences is called The Beatriz Lab. Here, participants will undergo the stages of AD through an adult woman named Beatriz. The journey is split into three parts — namely, Early Stage AD, Middle Stage AD, and Late Stage AD — which all share the goal of painting a vivid picture of the challenges that someone with AD encounters. It also aims to help provide new treatment methods that family members and caregivers can do to greatly improve the dementia patient’s quality of life.
Virtual Reality and Healthcare
As a technological simulated experience, VR offers the unique opportunity of immersing somebody in a realistic digital world. To gain a better sense of this concept, Dwight Pavlovic of HP explains that VR helps you interact with a computer-generated 3D environment combined with the use of sensors and equipment. VR is very popular in the gaming world, but it has now made its way to other industries as well, especially in healthcare. Becoming one of the most disruptive technologies around.
This isn’t the first time that VR has been used in healthcare, either. In fact, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles used VR technology in an effort to cut down training costs. Due to a standard plastic training mannequin costing up to $430,000 a year to maintain, the hospital decided to replace them with a VR training center. Across the pond, meanwhile, Business Insider reports that doctors at the Royal London Hospital broadcasted a live stream of an operation through VR headsets to help educate medical students.