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Virtual reality headsets simulate dementia symptoms

  • JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI

    Participants wearing virtual-reality headsets at an event in Tokyo experience the symptoms of people with dementia.

TOKYO >> Events have been organized nationwide, giving participants the opportunity to experience the effects of and better understand dementia using a virtual reality system that re-creates video images demonstrating such symptoms as hallucinations and memory impairment.

More than 4,000 participants have packed the events and sat in on the VR experience training sessions. They include people from schools and company employees who interact with dementia sufferers at work.

The company that produced the VR images has received a flood of requests to hold more of these events. Starting as soon as this summer, the firm plans to launch training programs to nurture instructors who have a basic knowledge of dementia with the aim of increasing its activities nationwide.

About 50 employees of Yakuju Corp., which operates a chain of dispensing pharmacies, recently wore goggle-type devices and headsets in its office in Tokyo. The exercise was part of the company’s training session to deepen employees’ understanding of dementia.

When the participants pressed buttons on the devices, audio and video of the VR images started playing.

In one scene, users could see a 360-degree view from the rooftop of a building. When the employees looked downward, they could see scenery below the building, which made them feel frightened.

Then a voice said, “No problem. Step forward with your right foot first.” When the employees looked back, they could see a man talking and smiling. The highly realistic graphics made some of the participants scream in fear. Next, the scene switched to one showing the dementia sufferer they were simulating as the person getting out of a car.

These VR images were produced based on a story of a senior with dementia who had an extreme fear of getting out of cars when traveling between home and a nursing care facility and insisted, “I felt like I was going to be hurled from a rooftop.”

Other VR simulations also included scenes that were re-created based on the experiences of dementia sufferers, some of whom had hallucinations, for instance seeing a worm on a cake, and those who were confused about what station to get off at when traveling by train.

The sets for the VR images were created by Silver Wood Corp., a Tokyo-based company that operates about 10 facilities — including apartments with nursing care serv­ices for seniors — in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

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