Virtual reality is being used to help people living with dementia back to their youth and unlock memories.

Digital health and wellness company Virtue uses immersive technology to help carers and families connect with people who have dementia.

Its co-founder and CEO Arfa Rehman says the inspiration came from looking at a trend in care facilities which are springing up in Scandinavia. These so-called 'dementia villages' are built to look like they’re from the 1940s and 1950s and so provide people with surroundings they were familiar with in times past.

This reminiscence therapy triggers long-term memories in people with dementia which can help with cognitive stimulation, communication, wellbeing and self-esteem and help them connect with people around them.

Virtue creates personalised mobile virtual reality experiences using a mobile phone and headset as a cheap alternative to bring this technology into care homes.

"We've seen great improvement with cognitive stimulation, communication and mood and wellbeing," Rehman told BusinessCloud.

“It helps trigger memories, and a lot of carers and staff say it’s a way to hear things from the users they’ve never heard before.

"We try to address the real loss in personality and connection that comes alongside dementia.

“People tend to become really isolated and reclusive and it’s really important to a find way to connect with them and stop them from slipping into loneliness, which has huge impact on health and wellbeing."

Using virtual reality and other immersive technology is also a great way to bridge the generational divide between carers and patients, says Rehman.

While it might be unfamiliar to the people who will be using it, Rehman says research has found that the elderly are pushing back against the idea that they aren’t interested in trying new tech.

"We tend to think that tech and the elderly are mutually exclusive but if you design something that addresses their needs and is useable and enjoyable of course they want to use it," she said.

"The people we work with usually aren’t familiar with VR but they’re incredibly receptive. As the younger generation we have certain perceptions of how the elderly feel about tech but when we show it to them, especially if they see someone else use first, they are really curious and want to try it for themselves.

“Then when they have had the experience they see a lot of value in it and want to use it again.”

While the stage of dementia can have an impact on the success of the tech, according to Rehman, the team has found it to be very effective in the mid and early stages of the disease.

The firm is now looking at how it can use immersive technology for other mental and physical health issues such as PTSD and stress and anxiety.

“There’s interesting research about how the immersive quality of VR can be really useful in combating stress and anxiety both in everyday and medical settings,” said Rehman.

“We’re looking at the different kinds of places that can potentially use that, for example patient wellness and helping deal with stress before or after hospital procedures, especially in kids.”

The company has also recently started moving toward technology for people in the workplace, which could give employees a tailored moment of calm or mindfulness during their day.

“The idea with all our applications, for dementia and others, is to use the unique qualities of VR to make therapeutic techniques more engaging and personalised,” she said.

“This in turn can increase adherence and help ensure the full benefits are delivered.”