For my undergraduate research, I will continue to work with the development of a virtual reality for people suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, particularly during the sundowning period. The sundowning period is described as a period of restlessness and unease where the suffering individual tends to get very jittery and antsy during the time when the sun sets. Witnessing this first hand made me realize how serious this issue is. My grandma suffered from Alzheimer’s and during this period, she wouldn’t sit still and would constantly wander around the house. She had to constantly be watched, which would halt the completion of other household tasks that would otherwise get completed. Our application, DiscoVeR uses virtual reality technology to bring users into their own world. By bringing them into their own goal, the ultimate goal is to minimize the effects of sundowning to the point where they forget what’s going on in the world around them.
My research has been and will continue to be broken down into two parts. A lot of the initial research was focused on learning the development aspect of this project. Coming into this, I had zero experience with Unity. A lot of my initial time was spent learning this new software that will be used to develop the application. Now that I have a basic understanding of Unity, the primary focus will be on the users. I will be going to nursing homes to work with senior citizens with and without dementia. Working with these individuals will allow me to figure out what truly works best. Researching the Internet can only get me so far, and its not until I work with people that I can get first-hand feedback.
Experiencing Alzheimer’s and its scary nature makes this project one that I will get so much out of. Not only will I learn new programming techniques and have an app to show for my resume, but also I will be able to help others. Being able to assist others and make a difference in someone’s life is something that I really pride myself in, and this project is the perfect way to do just that!
The desire to make a change has allowed me to make tremendous strides in both the research and the development of the application. Our team worked on the development of a virtual reality application to assist Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, specifically during the sundowning period. Our app, DiscoVeR takes the user into three distinct worlds, a jungle, a city, and a farm. In each of the worlds, the user looks around to interact with the various objects and animals. Simply glancing at the animal assigns the user a quest to find a certain food/drink that the animal is looking for which appears randomly around the world. The user then finds the item and returns it to the animal. My favorite part of the application was a late addition, a music room. Instead of animals, the user interacts with various instruments and each glance plays a different clip of the respective instrument. Also included in the music room is a jukebox that contains about 20 classic songs that the elders should remember from their childhood and adulthood. Music therapy is a proven technique to help these patients, so including it in the application was a necessity.
Although a working application is currently completed, there are still many questions that need to be answered to further enhance the project. First off, the application needs to be tested with more seniors and those suffering from Alzheimer’s. What might make sense to us as the developers might not make sense to a senior citizen using the app, and that is something that has to be strongly taken into account. Directions need to be clear so that the senior is able to use the app with minimal difficulty. The potential additions to the application are endless, and our team of developers and researchers are constantly looking for ways to improve upon our project. The music room seems to be a favorite among those who have tried the app, so enhancing the features of that would be ideal. Customization of the songs in the jukebox along with the user adding their own pictures to a wall could make the experience different and personalized for each individual.
Working on the app thus far has been an awesome experience, and one that has only just begun. It really has expanded my knowledge into a field where I never saw myself taking any interest. It’s amazing to think how much of an impact this technology can truly have on these individuals with Alzheimer’s, and I am honored and ecstatic to be one of the many people working towards bettering the lives of all those involved!
It all began about 5 years ago, when I truly began to understand how serious Alzheimer’s can be. My grandma, who suffered from this disease moved into our house for 2 months, and these 2 short months were the only proof I needed that something had to be done. My grandma was just one of the over 5 million Americans suffering from this disease, and it is one of the only diseases in the top 10 deaths of Americans that is neither curable or preventable . While research is constantly being done to find a cure for this disease, nothing is imminent. For this reason, something has to be done to help these individuals and their caretakers.
Mobile technology is becoming increasingly prominent in the medical field, and Alzheimer’s is no exception to its potential benefits. My project involves the use of mobile technology and virtual reality to assist Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers, specifically during the sundowning period. Sundowning happens around the time the sun sets, normally around 5:00 – 6:00, and it is described as a period of restlessness where the patient tends to get very jittery and antsy. Through the use of virtual reality, the user will be immersed in a world of their own and forget about everything around them. This will be used to distract the user and keep them occupied during this sundowning phase, allowing the caregiver to continue with household tasks that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish.
The methods that I use to conduct this research will be vital to the success of this project. To begin, I will need to develop a working product based on online research that I will conduct. After the application is developed, I will look to test it on family members and friends to see if any bugs are found and if it is usable. Once I get their approval, I will take the app to elderly patients at nursing homes and let them try it out. This feedback will easily be the most important. What might make sense to me might not make sense to a person with Alzheimer’s, and that is something that will need to be taken into account. Usability will be key as the person needs to know how to use the application. This project will take time to come full circle, but its potential benefits will make everything worth it in the end.
 2017 ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE FACTS AND FIGURES. Available FTP: http://www.alz.org/facts/