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How virtual reality is taking dementia patients back to the future

October 3, 2019

In a comfortable armchair, glass of sherry at her side, Elspeth Ford is getting to grips with her 3D goggles. “Maybe I’ll go another other way now,” she says, looking left, right, up, down. She breaks into a cheery rendition of the Lambeth Walk.

Elspeth, 79, is a resident at Langham Court, a dementia care home in Surrey, and today she is trialing a virtual reality project, Wayback, that has been designed especially for those living with dementia. Peering into her headset, Elspeth is temporarily transported to 2 June 1953, and a street party for the Queen’s coronation. She is enjoying a children’s fancy-dress competition. “I love that boy dressed as an Oxo cube,” she laughs.

This is the first in what will become a series of virtual reality films set at historic moments, and available free for those with dementia, their families and carers to enjoy together through a mobile phone and a pair of inexpensive 3D goggles. The idea was developed by three advertising creatives with family experience of dementia. For Camilla Ford, Elspeth’s daughter, it is an exciting concept. “It gave Mum a huge amount of pleasure and really engaged her,” she says. Anxiety – “about what she is meant to be doing” – often stops Elspeth getting involved in activities. “Dementia is debilitating in so many ways; you always need creative ways to give positive experiences. She was immersed in this and it took her back to a time of happy memories, when she was productive and emotionally fulfilled.”

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