A recent study from researchers at England’s University of Cambridge has found that virtual reality (VR) can identify symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease more accurately than ‘gold standard’ cognitive testing.
In 2014, researchers discovered what is known as our brain’s “internal satnav” (the entorhinal cortex), one of the first regions to be damaged by Alzheimer’s – which may explain why getting lost is such a common symptom in older people with the condition. Unfortunately tradition cognitive tests udes in most medical facilities for Alzheimer’s diagnoses arr unable to test for navigational problems. So to fix this, these researches decided to build their own.
For the study, 45 patients with “mild cognitive impairment” and 41 “healthy” patients wore VR headsets and undertook a navigation test in a simulated environment (which requires a high functioning entorhinal cortex). They identified 12 of the 45 cognitively-impaired participants had also tested positively for “underlying Alzheimer’s” and were at high risk of dementia. Interestingly, all of these patients performed significantly worse in the navigation test than those with “healthy” brains.
The researchers say they believe the new VR technology could play a crucial role in diagnosing and monitoring Alzheimer’s in the future, and also assist with clinical trials of medications aimed at slowing down the disease’s progression.
While there is no treatment currently available to cure dementia or to alter its progressive course, early diagnosis has been identified as an important factor that can help the individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as well as their carers and families. This is what makes research like this even more exciting. Early diagnosis promotes early and optimal management.