Virtual Calm: Reducing Dementia Distress with Virtual Reality Videos

Senior woman wearing a virtual reality headset and viewing mountain stream in a virtual reality world

Award Date: 2017

Project Lead(s): Sandra McKay, Director of Research

Project Title: Virtual Calm: Using VR Videos to Reduce Dementia Distress

What is the issue?

When people with dementia are unable to communicate their needs, they may react with inappropriate words, gestures or actions. These behaviours can be highly distressing for people with dementia and their caregivers. Distraction techniques may be helpful.

What did we do?

We asked people with dementia to use virtual reality videos featuring beaches, calming music, and guided meditations. We wanted to see if the videos would reduce their stress and inappropriate behaviours and if the virtual reality technology was easy to use. We trained caregivers on how to use the equipment. Twelve pairs of people with dementia and responsive behaviours and their caregivers enrolled in our study. Nine pairs participated in an initial visit and a follow-up evaluation.

What did we find?

Unfortunately, participants did not like the virtual reality equipment. Many suggested modifications to the headset design. Some people did not like the videos, especially when the content did not match their interests. Caregivers had problems with instructions, pop-up messages, and navigation, even after we provided additional support.