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Kansas facility tests virtual reality to help people with dementia


LINN, Kan. (WIBW) – Chris Brickler stands in the middle of a rural Washington Co., Kan. pasture, surveying the scene.

“This will be real cool here,” he nods, placing a stand topped by an orb of cameras amidst the grass.

But this isn’t an ordinary video shoot. Brickler uses setups of anywhere from six to 24 cameras at once, aiming to capture high-definition footage of everything around him to recreate in a 360-degree view, virtually, for a unique audience.

“Virtualy reality really isn’t just for 23-year-old gamers anymore,” Brickler says.

A few miles down the road, inside the Linn Community Nursing Home,
residents like Marian Gross and Lila Tiemeyer are proof of what Brickler means.

Sitting in rotating office chairs in one of the facility’s conference rooms, they’re enjoying places they’ve never been – or maybe, once were.

“He was coming right for me!” Lila exclaims to the staff, who see goggles before her eyes, whereas she is watching cats play. “You could just reach down and pet him.”

“It looks like you’re right there,” Marian agrees.

Brickler, with a background in film, and his business partner, Shawn Wiora, who worked in senior care, chose Linn as one of five pilot sites for their company, MyndVR, to test how virtual reality could benefit senior citizens.

“We really think that there’s an opportunity for seniors to enjoy this,” Brickler said. “They have time on their hands, there’s experiences around the world that they haven’t ever been able to do and this provides them that experience.”

It’s not all just fun and games. The hope is that a dose of virtual reality time is better than any dose of medicine for patients with dementia or other cognitive conditions.

“To me, the medication just masks the problem. Our goal is to get to the root of the problem,” said Janell Wohler, administrator for Linn Community Nursing Home.

Wohler and her facility have earned recognition for efforts to use behavioral methods, like music therapy, to help patients with dementia and other cognitive conditions. Kansas ranks worst in the nation for giving anti-psychotic medications to dementia patients, a condition for which those meds aren’t to be used at all.

“Most of us believe that (the medication) it doesn’t really do any good,” she said. “It doesn’t really get to the root of the problem of the so-called behavior that that person may be exhibiting.”

Through music therapy, Wohler says Linn went from 18 percent of their dementia patients taking anti-psychotics to none. Now, MyndVR is studying if virtual reality doses can help even more.

“It’s a very new science,” Brickler said.

The theory is a new experience can be enriching, while content specific to the individual – like what they’re creating at the Washington Co. ranch – can calm.

“It gives people a sense of familiarity about their past lives, maybe before they came into the nursing homes, and we think that has a lot of value,” Brickler said.

The value is added in improving mental function, thereby fostering positive feelings and behaviors.

“I feel real good inside,” Gross said following her session. “I’m more relaxed than when I was when I started.”

“The virtual reality has been amazing,” Wohler said. “I think that it reduces some anxiety. It makes residents happier. You’ll see the effects yet later on in the evening that they are maybe more calm.”

Wohler credits her staff for buying into the program, helping the residents quickly master how to operate the virtual reality programs and helping residents experience what living is all about.

“I get goosebumps. It’s amazing,” Wohler said. “Anything we can do, to me, to help our residents have a more fulfilled life is what we’re here to do.”

MyndVR hopes to use results from its pilot sites to convince Medicare and insurance to cover it as an accepted therapy, which will help them to expand to more facilities.

Linn is by far their smallest pilot site. The others are in the Dallas area, Orlando and Santa Barbara, Cali.



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