Virtual Reality for Evaluating Memory Loss and Dementia

VR tools are being used to permit earlier more reliable diagnosis.

Posted May 31, 2019

ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Source: ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Virtual VR reality (VR) tools are being used to enhance the diagnostic accuracy of existing conventional neuropsychological assessment methods that evaluate cognitive impairment for dementia and other degenerative neurological disorders (Fernandez-Montenegro & Argyriou 2017). Virtual performance testing environments are proving to be reliable and accurate for assessing cognitive impairment and providing a valuable adjunct to conventional neuropsychological testing approaches (Negut 2016). Prototype VR environments have yielded promising results for assessment of memory, attention, executive functioning, sensorimotor integration, and many activities of daily living in individuals with dementia and other degenerative disorders (Allain et al 2014).

Recent innovations in Alzheimer's screening tests incorporate immersive virtual environments, concepts from interactive video games, and advanced Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) systems. A VR testing environment has been successfully used to differentiate individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who were more likely to progress to dementia, from those who were less likely to progress (Tarnanas et al 2014). A suite of tests undertaken in a VR environment has shown to reliably distinguish healthy individuals complaining of memory problems from individuals with mild early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (Fernandez-Montenegro 2017). These tests can be used in clinical settings to assess the severity and type of memory loss related to common objects and recent conversations and events, evaluate deficits in expressive and receptive language, and determine an individual’s capacity to differentiate between virtual worlds and reality.

Future assessment approaches will integrate VR and functional brain imaging

Future approaches used to assess cognitive impairment will combine VR technology with qEEG, functional MRI (fMRI) and other functional brain-imaging technologies, advancing understanding of the causes of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia. The use of VR environments to assess neuropsychological functioning will lead to individualized rehabilitation strategies that more effectively address performance deficits on a case by case basis.