BY: JOCELYN SCHWALM
Having to deal with the diagnosis of a friend or family member with Alzheimer’s can be a tough pill to swallow. Knowing that someone who you love can’t recognize your face and has no idea who you are can be extremely frustrating. Alzheimer’s is one of the most heartbreaking diseases there is; children of those diagnosed have to put on a stoic face as their parent starts heading down a dark path of neurodegeneration.
As many scientists have dedicated their life’s work to finding a cure, it seems all that we currently have access to are preventative methods. With as many as 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the rising need for sensitivity training is becoming more and more important. Due to the mental nature of this disease, it can be extremely difficult to understand life through the eyes of someone who is in the midst of battling dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK has come up with an application that mimics the sensations of being in the grips of the harrowing disease. If empathy is born out of understanding a situation from the eyes of another, then this app could potentially change the way caregivers interact with their patients.
The application imitates the difficulties of trying to perform tasks while perceptions are dimmed and scrambled. The user is provided with special gloves to distort sensation, headphones that fill the ears with conflicting noises and glasses with the ability to dim brightness, making things extremely difficult for the user to make out. There is even an app that goes along with the virtual reality device, which goes even further into the mind of an Alzheimer’s patient, blurring details and morphing faces. Nurses are being heavily encouraged to take part in the virtual reality practice themselves as it seems to help dementia caregivers with their frustrations. The app is focused on changing the dynamic between patient and caregiver, potentially aiding the high prevalence of caregiver burnout within the Alzheimer’s community.
This device will help to put an end to myths of what the disease is and isn’t. People who’ve been diagnosed with different forms of dementia helped the app’s developers create the app to ensure accuracy of the product. Trina Armstrong, a woman living with a form of dementia called Posterior Cortical Atrophy says “Everyday things like popping to [going to] the supermarket or making a cup of tea are things I used to take for granted, but dementia presents a real barrier to my everyday life in ways that people often don’t realize.”
The emanating effects of the virtual reality device have proven not only to change the mindset of those affected directly by dementia, but has inadvertently done a great deal of positive for the charities looking to raise awareness of the disease. Those diagnosed with any form of dementia can feel the isolating effects of the disease, as if they are all alone in their struggles. This type of technology is vital for the Alzheimer’s community, providing a light in the form of empathy at the end of their dark tunnel.