Vail Daily column: Virtual reality and Alzheimer’s care | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Virtual reality and Alzheimer’s care

Judson Haims
My View

With the advent of virtual reality, there has been a lot of talk in the tech and entertainment businesses about what this new technology means for their industries. But virtual reality is expected to have a much wider-reaching impact and is already affecting the way some doctors approach Alzheimer’s disease and health care in general.

Risk detection

Alzheimer’s has already become remarkably easier to detect thanks to virtual reality technology. In October of last year, German Alzheimer’s care scientists published a study in which they used a virtual maze to help detect Alzheimer’s. In the study, the scientists tested people between 18 and 30 years old and had them try to navigate a virtual reality maze.

Amazingly, this test proved successful. Based on how different people moved through the maze, the scientists were able to accurately identify which subjects held genetic markers for Alzheimer’s. This means that with the help of virtual reality, scientists can diagnose high-risk patients as young as 18 years old, allowing families to plan for future Alzheimer’s care.

Virtual environment

Virtual reality has already made its way into Alzheimer’s treatment in a handful of trials by leading Alzheimer’s care professionals. One such trial, performed in 2014, used Microsoft Kinect technology to create peaceful scenes — such as a sunlit forest — that Alzheimer’s sufferers were able to interact with.

Another utilization of virtual reality has allowed patients to explore environments and take part in activities like skiing and scuba diving. This was accomplished using a technology called Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment. Originally, it was developed to assist Israeli soldiers rehabilitate however, the technology is also being used to help people recover from traumatic life events and manage paranoia.

Future of virtual reality

Since virtual reality is still in its infancy, it is tough to predict exactly how much of an impact this technology will have on Alzheimer’s care. Many people see a lot of potential in virtual reality’s therapeutic uses, and as the technology becomes more widespread, accessible and affordable, we may see virtual reality play a much bigger role in many facets of health care.

One exciting possibility is the creation of virtual environments that remind Alzheimer’s patients of their childhoods. It may even be possible to create customized environments for individual patients, introducing music or details that are particularly soothing.

Medical procedures

At University of California, Davis, virtual reality technology has already found a place in cardiology. The university has developed a Virtual Care Center with simulations in heart catheterization. They are also developing training applications that include performing a colonoscopy, endoscopy and even organ transplant surgery.

At the Royal London Hospital, a doctor recently performed a colon cancer operation that was broadcasted on smart phones and virtual reality headsets.

Virtual reality will play a major role in aiding people with cognitive issues. As the technology becomes more prevalent, we will see people’s ability to keep the mind sharp and in tune with virtual training in motor development, spatial awareness, and other cognitive tasks.

The technology is not only proving successful in assisting the elderly but it is lending itself to help medical professionals and caregivers learn how to interact with persons having Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.