Could Virtual Reality Be the Future When Diagnosing Alzheimer’s?

Virtual reality has come a long way in recent years, being used in a wide range of industries. Although you may first associate this technology with gaming, virtual reality is also an integral component of various research projects.

Just recently, Dr. Zahra Moussavi from the University of Manitoba, found that her virtual reality study could help determine individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Her findings are based on the relationship between Alzheimer’s and spatial awareness. Something which the BrainTest® app screens for with regards to cognition.

The Link Between Virtual Reality and Alzheimer’s

Running her study for the past several years, Dr. Moussavi stated that those suffering from early-onset dementia, including Alzheimer’s, lose their spacial awareness abilities much sooner and much more rapidly than healthy controls.

Although she is not claiming that this test will diagnose Alzheimer’s, she does believe that this approach could act as a very effective diagnostic aid. She hopes that her discovery can help professionals verify possible red flags before clinical symptoms surface.

To date, more than 400 individuals have participated in Moussavi’s study. Presenting these participants with a virtual reality test, they witnessed a building that looked the same on all four sides. With a number of windows on the building, they were instructed to ‘walk’ into the building and find the room with the target window.

It is normal to not find that correct room every time, especially as individuals age. However, those who display an error rate of more than 50 percent, may require further assessment.

Dr. Moussavi has followed-up with her participants every six months to a year to reassess their performance. Since Dr. Moussavi was also instrumental in developing a new, experimental therapy to the province of Manitoba, she utilized this potential treatment, known as Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (RTMS).

Participants Benefit from Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

RTMS is essentially a portable magnetic coil that patients wear on their head. Fitting over their skull, this device uses electrical currents to create an electromagnetic field. In turn, this stimulates the subject’s neurons. What has been found, is that RTMS improves symptoms for Alzheimer’s patients. This includes individuals in the early stages as well as those who have moderate Alzheimer’s.

In the study above, those who received RTMS treatment did not decline. However, once this treatment stopped, the rate of decline was much faster. Since her mother died of Alzheimer’s just a month after the lab opened, this research is very personal to Dr. Moussavi.

For those interested, she is taking volunteers to test this potential treatment. You can contact her via email to discuss her current work.

Another Benefit of VR for Dementia

Virtual reality technology is not only being used to potentially diagnose dementia, but also to improve patient quality of life. An example is The Wayback project. Offering patients a virtual reality film, they are able to reconnect with specific memories. In turn, this helps reduce the emotional toll of Alzheimer’s and other form of dementia.

Backed by Kickstarter supporters, the first planned film will recreate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I in 1953. This project is offering patients an opportunity to live in the moment and hopefully, trigger a memory. By helping patients remember, they also often experience the emotion associated with that memory.

This approach has been adopted by a number of care homes, providing residents with a sense of purpose. Although this research is still in its infancy, the results are promising. Virtual reality will continue to support Alzheimer’s research, while providing a possible sense of comfort for those living with this disease.

This is just one example of how technology supports science. As we continue to study the natural world around us, in this case, data from Alzheimer’s patients, technology can help solve key problems.

At BrainTest®, we will continue to cover the latest news in Alzheimer’s research. We are committed to helping you take control of your cognitive health. Check out our scientifically-validated app and take your first screening for free today!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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