Could virtual reality (VR) be used to help improve mood and boost happiness amongst patients with dementia? A recent study looked at just that and has been published in the March edition of Gerentologist.

In this pilot study, 10 patients with dementia, living at residential care facilities in Australia, took part in a VR experience consisting of a virtual forest. Additionally, caregivers and family members were included in the research. After completing the experience, the patients’ mood, alertness and pleasure were rated, using a variety of scales (Observed Emotion Rating Scale, Person-Environment Apathy Rating Scale, and Types of Engagement). Results indicated a positive impression of the VR experience, with improved pleasure and alertness. Of note, the forest environment did reportedly provoke some fear and anxiety with the patients. It’s unclear exactly what type of VR (mobile VR like Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard vs Vive or Oculus Rift) was used at this time. Additionally, it’s not clear how many sessions were utilized. Nonetheless, as a pilot study, this offers tentative evidence of the use of VR with such patients, and ideally will spur research in this direction.

The use of VR to help improve mood in patients with dementia isn’t new. Several companies offering such experiences for seniors have recently popped up We have covered some of them here such as Rendever or OneCaringTeam. Recently, a group from the UK (TribeMix) released an uplifting video showing a similar use of VR in dementia care. The video (viewable here), reveals the positive reactions of elderly individuals upon visiting a seaside environment in VR. The ability to offer unique, immersive experiences for patients is just one of the many potential benefits of VR. Still, there remains a dearth of research on the topic of VR and it is great to see more publications in this area.