In Poznań, they treat Alzheimer’s disease using virtual reality. VR technology as a way to re-educate and exercise memory

Nicole Mlodziejewska

Alzheimer’s Association of Wielkopolskie charges use VR technology. This way they can move around in virtual worlds. As Andrzej Rossa, president of the association, says, it is an activity that improves the students’ mood and, in addition, has a positive effect on their memory.

The Wielkopolska Alzheimer Association is located in a modern building at ul. Garczyński to Wilda in Poznań. This is where the virtual journeys take place in one of the rooms. In an instant, it can become a terrace with a view of the mountains or an agricultural field.

All this is due to virtual reality, that is, an image created using information technology. It is a “computer game” which, with the help of glasses and special joysticks, creates a multimedia space that surrounds us.

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Andrzej Rossa, president of the Association, discovered this technology by accident. He immediately decided to use it with his proteges.

– Two years ago I read an article and contacted Dr. Marcin Czub from Wrocław University of Technology. He invited me to his institute, where I not only got to know the whole team, but also saw what equipment they had. They are the ones who advised me what I should buy

Rossa recalls.

A virtual session takes place in the presence of a physiotherapist, a psychologist and a president. The first patient is Mr. Bogumił, a handsome man in his 60s. You can see right away that he has a strong character, but because of his illness he doesn’t remember certain words.

At the beginning, Marta Buraczyk-Nosal, physiotherapist, performs a brief examination with the student. She asks him to stand up straight, put his feet together and stretch his arms out in front of him. She makes him stand in this position for a few seconds. He then asks her to do the same with her eyes closed.

– Now we know you’re fine. If you were leaning to the side, that tells us you have a problem with the maze. If he leaned back, this would indicate a dysfunction of the cerebellum – explains Marta.

Physiotherapist and psychologist Paula Rosa put special glasses on Mr. Bogumił. On the laptop monitor you can see that the patient is in an arable field. – Here is a flowerbed. One, the second and the third – describes Mr. Bogumił.

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Lukasz Gdak

– And what tools do you have in front of you? – Marta asks.

– Shovel. Here we have a bucket, a wheelbarrow, and a rake is lying on the wheelbarrow – answers the protege.

Finally, the president of the Association asks the patient if the space in which he finds himself reminds him of a country or a city.

– It suits me, for example, in Saudi Arabia – Mr. Bogumił answers after reflection.

– Oh please. We’ve never been there, have we? – Marta said immediately.

– Yes, yes, I was – Mr. Bogumił answers with conviction.

Another patient is Mr. Bernard. He is much older than the other defendants, he won’t hear a bit. Mr. Marta and Paula speak to him loudly and slowly.

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Thanks to virtual reality, leaders of the Wielkopolskie Alzheimer's Association can instantly find themselves in a different space, not
Lukasz Gdak

The mentee trusts the employees. Although we can see that he does not yet understand what “transfer” to another world can mean, he accepts and wears his glasses with great courage. The psychologist walks slowly with the patient in the room, and Mr. Bernard sees him walking on the terrace with a view of the mountains.

– Butterflies were flying a moment ago. Blue, white, orange, that too is blue – it calculates.

“Put your hand slowly in front of you,” Ms. Paula recommends.

– IN REGARDS TO! He sat on my arms! exclaims Mr. Bernard with satisfaction.

– But the number, right? – echoes Ms. Paula.

Asked by the psychologist about what we see in the background, Mr. Bernard replies that he sees mountains. It immediately brings back memories.

“My sister used to live upstairs,” he says, but we can see that he is still collecting his thoughts, so the association staff gives him time to think.

Thanks to virtual reality, leaders of the Wielkopolskie Alzheimer's Association can instantly find themselves in a different space, not
Lukasz Gdak

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After a moment, a smile crosses his face.

– In Jelenia Góra, so I often went there – corrects the patient.

And he adds: – I haven’t been to the mountains for about five years. I didn’t ride a lot because I had a garden and tended to it so much all the time. I couldn’t leave him. Because of that, I lost a lot, because I didn’t visit the world.

The Association mainly attracts people with Alzheimer’s disease, but also people with cognitive disorders. Patients have short-term or long-term memory problems.

– This game makes you feel better. When it is gray outside, we can move to a sunny place. It also works much like phototherapy to counter depression. Another thing that makes us very happy, and what we really hope is that this game stimulates the brain. New neural networks are formed, the brain is rejuvenated and we can thus improve our cognitive functions. It’s a form of neurorehabilitation

– Explain Paul Rosapsychologist.

Thanks to virtual reality, leaders of the Wielkopolskie Alzheimer's Association can instantly find themselves in a different space, not
Lukasz Gdak

And she adds: – It also distracts from what is here and now. Patients stop thinking that something is wrong with them and focus more on this 3D world. If we move to different worlds, whether in the mountains or the sea, this is also an excellent form of reminiscence therapy. The patient can recall events in his life. It works a bit like associations, it unlocks memories.

Association officials have high hopes for the technology.

– In our opinion, this is a very promising new technology that has advantages over conventional physiotherapy. Sometimes patients who come to us are “blocked” by various dementias and are afraid to walk a certain distance. Here, being in a different world, in favorable natural conditions, they do not even know when they open their posture, straighten their figure, take free steps and start talking more – he explains Marta Buraczyk-Nosal.

Thanks to virtual reality, leaders of the Wielkopolskie Alzheimer's Association can instantly find themselves in a different space, not
Lukasz Gdak

In turn, Andrzej Rossa adds: – In Great Britain they have developed a program in which they scan the houses of residents and operate in these areas. We would also like to get into something like this. Maybe Poznań University of Technology would be willing to cooperate with us, or another company? By using our potential and our possibilities, which are the presence of a psychologist, a physiotherapist and patients, you can together start a professional research and write a project that will allow patients to have a good time, or to remember that they were in the mountains, but also to be able to practice the layout of his apartment every day.

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