February 13, 2024
How We Use Virtual Reality for Dementia-Related Memory Loss
Making Memories Last
While reminiscence therapy has long been used to support people in the early stages of dementia, the evolution of virtual reality makes the practice even more vivid—and effective.
Memories are what shape us as individuals. They define our likes and our dislikes and inspire us to keep going through life’s more difficult moments. That’s why losing memories can feel a bit like losing pieces of yourself.
It’s a feeling people with dementia know all too well.
Those in the early stages of dementia typically lose recent memories first. However, memories from long ago—as far back as childhood—are easier to recall. Reminiscence therapy can be particularly effective in helping individuals with dementia retrieve these memories for multiple positive outcomes, including improved quality of life, mood, cognition, communication, and mental health.
What Is Reminiscence Therapy?
Put simply, reminiscence therapy relies on the senses—sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound—to elicit memories or, as the name suggests, to help those experiencing memory loss to reminisce. Photos from the past, the smell of a loved one’s perfume, a favorite meal, the feel of a familiar shirt, or a playlist of songs from childhood are all examples of tools that may be used in reminiscence therapy.
This form of therapy can help stimulate conversation and engage someone with dementia who may be feeling isolated and begin to withdraw from the world around them.
The Benefits Of Virtual Reality Therapy for Dementia
An emerging method of reminiscence therapy is virtual reality (VR). This state-of-the-art approach is one of many options available to memory care residents at Springpoint Living at Manalapan. Multiple researchers have demonstrated the benefits of VR reminiscence therapy. A study done in Japan suggested that this type of therapy produced cognitive improvements using either photos or VR. It also showed that morale was greater after using the more immersive VR approach. These findings are also supported by Australian researchers, who specifically explored VR headsets and found that participants with the highest levels of apathy made the greatest strides in cognitive measures.
A 2018 study done by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that study participants using VR reminiscence therapy “reported being less socially isolated, being less likely to show signs of depression, experiencing positive affects more frequently, and feeling better about their overall well-being.”
Incorporating Virtual Reality Technology with Memory Care
Within our memory care community in Manalapan, NJ, residents are overcoming isolation using VR headsets that transport them to another time and place. Residents simply use the headset, which looks and feels like an oversized pair of ski goggles, and begin an immersive experience, whether on their own or together with fellow residents.
The library of VR experiences is vast and constantly growing. Each resident has a custom profile that includes details about their history so we can take them back to significant moments in time, like the neighborhood where they grew up or the college where they studied. Residents can visit cities or countries where they once traveled or lived, or they can explore content themed around seasons, holidays, and other topics that interest them.
We encourage families to get involved by sharing their loved one’s life story. They do so by uploading images and videos from family reunions, weddings, recitals, holidays, or even everyday moments like grandkids playing. These personalized touches result in an even more meaningful experience.
What Virtual Reality Can Do for Others
Frustration is a common state for people with dementia, especially during the early stages when they are acutely aware that words and memories aren’t coming as freely as they once did. Shifting attention to fond memories through reminiscence therapy can allow these individuals to focus on happy experiences from the past and relive that joy, easing the emotional burden and isolation of memory loss.
Virtual reality reminiscence therapy provides a natural opportunity for individuals to engage as they talk about events, experiences, people, or places that hold special meaning. Not only does the therapy nurture social engagement and reduce a sense of isolation, but it also helps counteract apathy, which is common among those with dementia and is tied to other concerns like cognitive decline and a lower quality of life.
Similarly, reminiscence therapy allows someone with dementia to celebrate what they can do; that is, relive, recall, and talk about the good old days. It’s a chance to practice language skills and communication, which can help delay the progression of dementia symptoms.
Explore Our Person-Centered Approach to Memory Care
At Manalapan, our well-rounded memory care community encompasses a clinical care team and supportive programs like reminiscence therapy that help ensure each resident is receiving the resources necessary for the highest quality of life. Schedule a visit to learn more about our personalized and engaging memory care activities.
Memories are what shape us as individuals. They define our likes, our dislikes, and even what inspires us. That’s why losing memories can feel a bit like losing pieces of yourself. Often, it’s a feeling people with dementia know all too well.
Usually, people in the early stages of dementia lose recent memories first. However, memories from long ago—as far back as childhood, even—are easier to recall. A form of therapy called reminiscence therapy can be particularly effective in helping individuals with dementia retrieve these memories for multiple positive outcomes, including quality of life, cognition, communication, and mental health.