Virtual reality (VR)-based environmental enrichment in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild dementia

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Background: Despite an alarming rise in the global prevalence of dementia, the available modalities for improving cognition and mental wellbeing of dementia patients remain limited. Environmental enrichment is an experimental paradigm that has shown promising anti-depressive and memory-enhancing effects in pre-clinical studies. However, its clinical utility has remained limited due to the lack of effective implementation strategies.
Objective: The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the usability (tolerability and interactivity) of a long-term virtual reality (VR)- based environmental enrichment training program in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild dementia. A secondary objective was to assess the effect of VR-based environmental enrichment on stabilization of cognitive functioning and improvement of mental wellbeing in older adults with MCI and mild dementia.
Methods: A total of seven participants (four patients with MCI and three with mild dementia) received biweekly VR-based environmental enrichment over a course of 6 months. The tolerability and interactivity of the participants in the VR training was serially assessed via virtual reality sickness questionnaire (VRSQ) and recording of input-error ratio. Cognitive functioning was assessed through Montreal cognitive assessment (MoCA) before and after the study. Mental wellbeing was assessed through Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale (WEMWBS).
Results: VR-based environmental enrichment was well-tolerated by the patients with significant decrease in VRSQ scores (p < 0.01) and input-error ratio (p < 0.001) overtime. VR training was also effective in stabilization of MoCA scores over the course of therapy (non-significant difference in the MoCA scores before and after the therapy) and was associated with a trend (p < 0.1) towards improvement in WEMWBS scores between the first and the last assessments. Qualitative observations by the care-givers further corroborated a noticeable improvement in mental wellbeing of patients.
Conclusions: This pilot study shows that VR can be a feasible, tolerable, and potentially effective tool in long-term support of older adults with MCI and mild dementia.


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Brain Sciences