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VR for Spatial Navigation Training

Capacities of VR

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated technology that creates immersive and interactive experiences transcending physical boundaries. Currently used by clinicians and therapists alike, VR can assist many types of physical and mental rehabilitation programs. This includes the clinical assessment, training, and feedback on performance for spatial navigation challenges.

VR helps scientists measure the strategies different age groups and primate species use for navigation. In evolutionary psychology, it is used to test spatial cognitive abilities such as learning, memory, and spatial navigation. Studies examine navigation through mazes and environments with various 3D and 2D landmarks and sometimes track neural activity.

Researchers use VR in one of the most challenging areas in neuroscience: the investigation of cortical mechanisms. It is technically challenging to perform neurophysiological recordings on people who move freely and navigate various scenarios throughout the day. So, VR offers control over landmarks, distractions, and spaces to assess attention and behavior.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

A study shows that VR can help neurologically assess and rehabilitate conditions such as spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation is a severe case of difficulty navigating all types of environments, new or routine, commonly caused by brain damage. A verbally-guided VR-based navigation training program improved route finding for 11 participants with spatial disorientation.

VR training could also help treat landmark agnosia, a condition where patients cannot locate landmarks in the real world, impairing their navigation. Trials were even successful with more common conditions such as amnesia. These simulations have shown to have ecological validity, as virtual representations of real-life environments have successfully trained individuals to navigate real-life environments.

One key benefit to spatial navigation training is protecting the hippocampus against age-related changes during early and late adulthood. With VR, training can be done from anywhere in the world and with fewer physical barriers to accessibility. Since there are over 171 million VR users worldwide, implementing spatial navigation training in VR games could also achieve widespread preventative success.

Foretell Reality

Foretell Reality is an inclusive social VR platform where up to 15 active users can meet for live therapy and support groups. In the app, users can walk or teleport around open spaces, exploring private and public environments. Some spaces also provide navigation simulations such as mazes that allow for real-time spatial navigation training with professionals.

References:

Virtual reality in neurologic rehabilitation of spatial disorientation – PMC (nih.gov)

VR Training with Spatial Knowledge and Navigation (1library.net)

Spatial navigation training protects the hippocampus against age-related changes during early and late adulthood – ScienceDirect

Virtual reality in neurologic rehabilitation of spatial disorientation – PMC (nih.gov)

Landmark Agnosia: Evaluating the Definition of Landmark-based Navigation Impairment | Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

Landmark Agnosia: Evaluating the Definition of Landmark-based Navigation Impairment | Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)

The Hippocampus in the Limbic System (thoughtco.com)

23 Amazing Virtual Reality Statistics [2022]: The Future Of VR + AR – Zippia

Virtual Reality Reminiscence Therapy
Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Power of Virtual Reality Reminiscence Therapy

Cognitive decline can lead to social isolation and many older people suffer from dementia-related anxiety. In a recent article, The New York Times took a look at a practice to help minimize the effects of the disease using virtual reality (VR) reminiscence therapy. Traditional (non-VR) reminiscence therapy has been practiced for several decades and allows older generations to reconnect with joyous and meaningful events of their youth through photographs, videos, and music. Along with positive feelings, nostalgia can help cultivate confidence and long-term perspective, at a time when many are grappling with the instability of short-term memory loss. For those who do not experience a significant improvement in well-being from traditional reminiscence therapy, the addition of virtual reality elements can be a dramatic turning point. 

The immersive experience of VR reminiscence therapy is helping patients to socialize in their daily lives, reversing the pre-treatment pattern of isolation. The article focuses on John Faulkner, a seventy-six year old resident of Central Parke Assisted Living and Memory Care in Mason, Ohio. Mr. Faulkner was withdrawn and showed no discernable improvement with reminiscence therapy by simply viewing photos until the center used an immersive virtual reality experience that allowed him to virtually walk along Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher where he had once visited in person with his wife. Over the course of his weekly 45-minute VR sessions, Mr. Faulkner not only became more sociable with other residents, he now requires less medication to treat his anxiety. A senior administrator at Central Parke stated that residents who engage in VR reminiscence therapy have experienced up to a 70% reduction in their usage of antipsychotics.

The article emphasizes the substantial shift the population will experience over the next forty years, as the 65+ age segment is expected to double in size. Technological tools will likely be very impactful to aid younger generations in caring for the elderly. In addition to VR reminiscence therapy, virtual reality is being used to treat elderly patients who suffer from chronic pain as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent research at MIT has also shown that VR can decrease depression and social isolation in seniors. And a study is currently underway at the University of Santa Barbara, California using VR technology that allows families to take trips with their elderly family members. Not only can a senior revisit places where meaningful events took place, they may soon be able to bring along their grandchildren to experience the exuberance of the jazz age, for example, or to visit the town they grew up in.

Foretell Reality focuses on bringing people together in VR to enhance human interaction and facilitate social connection, often guided by mental-health professionals. 

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