VR for Cognitive Stimulation
We all care about our cognitive abilities. Many people train their brain in various ways, hoping that cognitive training will help prevent decline. As we live longer every generation, and as the normal aging process goes hand in hand with some gradual brain deterioration, there has been growing interest in finding methods to ‘keep our brains sharp’, to retain or even enhance our cognitive performance15.
Research has shown that especially the more dynamic abilities to problem solve, recall and manipulate new information (sometimes described as ‘fluid intelligence’) may decline in the normal aging process16. Multiple rigorously designed and well-controlled cognitive training programs have demonstrated benefit in improving domain specific cognitive functions in healthy elderly and mild cognitive impairment patients, yet a lot of research still needs to be done.
Not surprisingly, interest among the consumer public in brain training appears to be steadily rising. This has sparked the desire to develop innovative VR approaches to ‘brain fitness’. Ongoing scientific advances in various research fields do indeed support the notion of potential malleability of neural connectivity throughout the lifespan. In other words: the brain has the flexibility to adapt based on what we feed it. What if we would feed it with positive, near-real VR experiences?
Recent research17 has demonstrated that using virtual reality, especially in the cognitive domains of attention, executive function and memory (visual and verbal) yields the most consistent improvements. Follow-up studies have demonstrated long-term improvements in cognitive and psychological outcomes.
People of age 65+ with mild cognitive impairment
Alzheimer cases as a result of physical non-activity
People that will develop dementia in their lifetime
Now imagine your grandmother in an elderly home, confined to the same environment and caught in fixed routines for most of the day. Do you believe this is the optimal cognitive stimulation to keep her brain fit? We don’t. So, if your grandma can no longer go out and enjoy the inspiring beauty and new experiences of life, we need to be passionate about taking some of that beauty and those experiences back to her, to ‘sparkle’ her brain.
Our virtual worlds bring inspiring, artistic environments where you can practise pathfinding and other cognitive tasks. This is very similar to interactions in the real world. It’s no surprise that this is considered a very functional approach to mental fitness!
15 The Sharpbrains Guide to Brain Fitness Fernandez A, Goldberg E: . SharpBrains, San Francisco, CA, USA (2009)
16 Exercising the brain to avoid cognitive decline: examining the evidence. William E Reichman, Alexandra J Fiocco & Nathan S Rose: Aging Health (2010) 6(5), 565–584
17 Computerized and virtual reality cognitive training for individuals at high risk of cognitive decline: systematic review of the literature. Coyle, H., Traynor, V. & Solowij, N. (2015). American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 23 (4), 335-359.