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Suffolk Council plans to use VR for dementia patients

04/03/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Suffolk County Council is planning to use virtual reality (VR) technology in treating elderly people with dementia.

Old lady laughing in VR headset

It has outlined a plan to produce a range of locally based films and interactive material that people can watch in their care settings, supported by family and carers.

This is aimed at helping them to recall positive memories and stimulate their interactions with people around them.

The council has allocated £80,000 from its Suffolk 2020 Fund for the project, which will involve developing the films and materials, carrying out supporting academic research, buying equipment and managing the resourcing.

It has also published a prior information notice for the development of a software platform in support of the project, indicating that a procurement will run during the summer.

Suffolk said the plan has been encouraged by a number of academic studies in recent years that have shown VR can be used successfully as reminiscence and therapeutic aid to help people with dementia recover memories and feel positive emotions.

Some care providers already use theme rooms to show archive films, and the advocates of VR say it could support and complement experiences provided by local care providers.

The project team has also put out a call for local care providers, service users and their families who could be interested in becoming involved in the project.

Digital care revolution

Beccy Hopfensperger, Suffolk’s cabinet member for adult social care, said: “This initiative is part of the digital revolution that is happening across the care sector at the moment.

“Given the extremely challenging period everyone has experienced through Covid-19, it has been essential to find ways to innovate and adapt to the changing circumstances and make the most of technology and supportive aids where possible to continue supporting our most vulnerable residents alongside the amazing work of our committed care providers and their staff.

“The virtual reality experience may seem a strange choice to some, but there is a great deal of evidence to support the research demonstrating that residents with dementia who use the technology are able to often access memories and experiences, triggered by particular places, colours and sounds.

“Where it has been used elsewhere, the technology has offered positive outcomes including improving wellbeing, behaviour, and even cognition in some cases. This type of therapy also supports inter-generational shared experiences between older and younger family members.”

“We really want to work with our partners in the local care sector to think about what sorts of experiences may work best, such as films of trips to the seaside, archive film footage of historic moments or particular landscapes and Suffolk landmarks.”

Image from iStock, Shironosov

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