"VR4Therapy": How Virtual Reality Supports Memory
An estimated 130,000 Austrians currently suffer from dementia, and numbers are growing. Active biography work is a proven approach in dementia care and treatment. Now "VR4Therapy", an ambitious research project led by Netural, explores possible therapeutic applications of virtual reality, investigating if this technology can help to keep the patients´ memories alive.
Fighting oblivion: A research team fielded by Caritas, the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and Netural started out in October this year to examine possible benefits of virtual reality applications in supporting the memory of dementia patients. "At present, nurses and medical attendants coaching dementia patients use photo albums, old newspaper clippings and family memorabilia to build bridges into the past”, explains project manager Robert Hartmann. "VR could serve as a technology basis to really expand their toolbox."
Virtual reality is known to be highly immersive, displaying virtual worlds which users experience as extremely realistic. The resulting impact could well add new qualities to memory maintenance coaching: Visuals and sound recordings of memorable events and everyday life in the 1930ies to 1960ies may supplement a person´s own life story in providing starting points for conversations and activities with therapeutic effect. Collecting the necessary media material involves extensive research as well as reaching out to the public for assistance: Citizens of Linz, Austria were invited to contribute private photos to the project, thus helping to resurrect past decades of the “Steel City”.
Displaying these contributions in suitable formats for working with dementia patients is part of the project mission. Further research objectives deal with the best use of the available hardware components and their efficient embedding in therapy schemes. The necessary tests are carried out in Caritas facilities. A grant from FFG, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, has made this research possible, with future project expansions depending on the findings of stage one, which is scheduled for one year.