Upcoming Trends: AR & VR Are Helping Alzheimer Patients Retrieve Memory

Healthcare has traditionally been an industry that was slow to adapt to new technology. That changed with the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, which ushered in a new era of digital health records across health systems around the country. Today, the digital landscape has completely changed, and one area leading the way with innovation is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The latest trend in healthcare is to use these tools to help Alzheimer’s patients retrieve their memory. Here’s what the research is showing us. 

Understanding AR and VR 

Today, there are elements of AR and VR as close as your smartphone. From Snapchat lenses to the game Pokemon Go, AR is a tool that can add three-dimensional digital elements to a live experience or view on your handheld digital device. 

VR takes the AR idea one step further by completely immersing you in the digital experience. End users can put on a viewing headset like Google Cardboard or Oculus Rift and be transported into an imaginary (but still digital) world. 

There is also MR, which is a mixed reality combining elements of both AR and VR digital frameworks. 

How can these tools help healthcare patients improve their cognitive functions when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia? 

Alzheimer’s and AR 

The Alzheimer’s Association says there are 5.8 million Americans living today with the disease. This type of dementia impairs the mental performance of the affected person, creating difficulties with memory and daily tasks. A recent study in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation studied the use of an AR/VR device (the Microsoft HoloLens) to support advanced Alzheimer patients in the simple task of making tea. 

The study found that these healthcare patients struggle with remembering how to function in the kitchen. These daily routines are often a key area of concern, impacting the ability of Alzheimer patients to remain independent in their homes. The cognitive deterioration of these patients negatively affects driving, shopping, and even feeding themselves. The study used the VR device to support advanced Alzheimer’s patients in making tea. Preparing tea is a task that requires multiple steps in sequence, something that most dementia patients would have trouble following. The study found that the patients committed task errors without the HoloLens device; however, they were able to fully complete the tea-making task with the assistance of this technology tool. 

What’s Next for AR/VR in Healthcare? 

AR and VR in healthcare are just getting started, but it’s quickly advancing in the healthcare field. These advancements are likely to change some of the career opportunities for new workers coming into the healthcare field. AR and VR applications hold tremendous potential not only for Alzheimer’s patients but also for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients. Mobidev cites a senior living facility in Connecticut that is using VR headsets to help patients with these disorders. But these innovations are just the tip of the iceberg. Doctors will soon be able to use mixed reality devices to compare and visualize data in real-time, and medical students can use these tools to practice their craft. 

It’s an exciting time in healthcare as technology really begins to impact the field. Talk to The Custom Group about new career paths for job seekers on the edge of innovation. 

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