Students can experience Alzheimer's, hearing loss with VR

By Agency Published on Jul 24, 2018 04:53 PM IST

Washington: Scientists have developed a virtual reality technology that allows people to experience age-related disabilities such as vision and hearing loss, as well as the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

The experience may help students gain a better understanding and empathise with older adults and their struggles with dementia.

The virtual reality (VR) simulation was incorporated into a training program for about 20 high school students in the US.

It 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.

The goal 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 centres.

"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 programme," said Daniel C Potts, of the University of Alabama in the US.

"It also may decrease the stigma and their negative attitudes about older people," said Potts.

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 is 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, Vice President of Care and Support for the Alzheimer's Association in the US.