Dementia research trials ‘time travel’

Gemma Najem
(Australian Associated Press)


What if virtual time travel could help people suffering from dementia?

It’s the question researchers have been exploring using immersive technology and reminiscence therapy at Western Sydney University.

A six-week Sydney trial, which concluded on Wednesday, has taken 30 participants from a BaptistCare nursing home through a virtual journey using a series of landmarks on Google Maps and Street View to trigger memories and emotions.

Cognitive psychologist Professor Kate Stevens says personal historical information, such as music and images, could trigger memories for those suffering from dementia or long-term memory loss.

“This form of therapy provides an opportunity for participants to talk about their memories, with the added bonus of … reducing social isolation, improving mood, and helping to sustain relationships,” she said.

The immersive technology is designed to intensify reminiscence therapy and its effectiveness using a set up of 2D and 3D visual cues on large wrap-around screens.

Dementia sufferer and trial participant John Goodison, 84, said the trial triggered memories spanning from his toddler years to his journey from England to Australia.

“I remember a romance on the ship on the trip (to Sydney). Her name was Shirley, but she got off the boat in Melbourne,” he told AAP.

There was also the walnut tree in the backyard of his childhood London home and the time he fell out of the first storey window as a toddler, he said.

“Everything came back and it was wonderful.”

Mr Goodison’s daughter Stephanie Spencer said she had been able to bond with her father over his history.

“It opens up conversations between us … at a family reunion he was able to talk about all these things and it’s lightened him up a bit,” she said.

Researchers expect the program’s results be released mid-December.


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