Using VR to Go Back in Time for Those Living with Alzheimer’s

An interview with Howard Green, co-founder of the Wayback Project, conducted by Kate Anderton, BSc

How common is Alzheimer’s disease worldwide? What are the main problems faced by individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease?

Currently, there are an estimated 46 million people worldwide living with some form of dementia. This figure is set to rise to around 115 million by 2050. Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds, which is both shocking and saddening.

Memory loss is the main problem associated with Alzheimer’s. Forgetting people, names, places, dates and memories. All of which can cause confusion and distress to the person. They become more withdrawn and their moods and personality can change. It’s a vicious circle. The person is there physically, but not mentally. In some cases, the person is completely unresponsive and uncommunicative and it’s heartbreaking for their loved ones,

Alzheimer’s attacks and destroys parts of the brain, that once gone, can never be repaired. It’s such a complicated disease, for which sadly, there is currently no cure. Prevention is always the best remedy, but for Alzheimer’s disease, the best we can do is try to slow it down.

Why is it important that we develop new methods to improve patients’ quality of life?

When someone you love is living with Alzheimer’s disease, all you want is for them to talk and communicate. You just want them back, even for a moment. Anything that can bring relief and happiness to the person themselves and their family, albeit momentarily, is a good thing. Until hopefully one day there is a cure for this terrible disease.

What is the Butterfly Household Model of Care? How is it used to manage Alzheimer’s Disease?

The Butterfly Household Model of Care, ‘Butterfly Care’, pioneered by Dementia Care Matters founder Dr David Sheard, is a form of care that actively encourages care home residents to live in the past and uses ‘reminiscence therapy’ to aid this: music, photos, clothes, food, and props from the era.

The thinking behind this is that if that if the person can’t live in the present, we will go back to whatever time they are living in, to help give them a better quality of life, sense of value and peace. Other brilliantly simple ideas include night shift staff wearing pajamas rather than day clothes, to help residents to distinguish between night and day, so they are less disorientated and sleep better.

Please give an overview of The Wayback Project.

The Wayback is a Virtual Reality film series designed to help people living with Alzheimer’s by recreating positive popular historical moments, helping to trigger happy memories and spark conversation and interaction with loved ones. It’s a totally immersive form of reminiscence therapy.

The Wayback is not for profit and the pilot episode: a street party from The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 is freely available online.

Where did the idea to use VR to help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease come from?

Whilst Alzheimer’s attacks the short-term memory, the long-term memory can remain intact, which we felt was very interesting. We were also interested in the idea of reminiscence therapy itself, i.e. going back to whatever time the person feels most comfortable in. This all led to the idea of actually trying to recreate a past historical event for real, and using VR was an obvious way to do this.

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