• Dementia Games: How video games are being used to treat dementia
Statistically everyone will be friends with or related to someone who has dementia. There's no cure or treatment for the disease but now in a world first video games are being used as a treatment.
Monday, April 28, 2014 - 19:30

Dementia is a disease that affects more than 320,000 Australian's with more than 1700 new cases identified each and every week. By 2050 this figure will reach almost a million.

There's no cure or treatment for the disease but in a world first - Alzheimer's Australia are working to increase the quality of life for sufferers by using video games.

"We have always taught people that what they need to do is to tap into people's senses if you want to communicate and engage," says Dr Tanya Petrovich from Alzheimer's Australia. "The power of virtual environments is that they can give us a means by which we can tap into those senses."

Dementia is a progressive illness that becomes quite debilitating as a patient’s brain cells die off.

Dr Petrovich says it's often difficult to watch patients reconcile with their new lack of cognitive ability.

"More and more they are having to give up the things that they hold dear in their life," says Dr Petrovich. "The person may start off by having issues with their memory which may lead to issues with remembering events or days. Then it can progress to not being able to perform tasks like driving the car, like preparing a cup of tea or preparing a meal."

"To watch a person that you care for greatly, to see them change quite signifiantly over time is difficult... for them to come to terms with the fact that they're no longer the person that they were."

"You can see them go through quite a bit of anguish over that.

In an effort to try and stimulate the fragile minds of dementia sufferers Alzheimer's Australia partnered with Opaque Multimedia to create The Dementia Forest Project - a virtual game world that patients can control.

The Forest Project uses a gesture based interface allowing a patient to wave their hand to control aspects of the game like the weather.

James Bonner from Opaque Multimedia says there is a clear indication that dementia sufferers are getting some benefit from the game.

"It's heartwarming to see the people living with dementia become responsive, they become excited," says Mr Bonner. "Even through... the fog of memory loss associated with dementia they tend to remember their interactions with the forest."

And while the Forest Project is not a cure for dementia - Alzheimer's Australia is excited about the results.

"People living with dementia are not stimulated," says Juanita Bekinschtein from Alzheimer's Australia. "They don't get enough recognition for their abilities."

"With all these programs and projects we give them a reason to get up from bed every morning."

You can find out more about supporting the Dementia Forest Project here: http://www.pozible.com/project/179761.

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