Virtual Reality as a tool for cognitive stimulation

Updated: 13 Nov 2019

One of the most common repercussions of ageing is the presence of cognitive deficits, which interfere with the performance of complex activities. Older people are at high risk of suffering from any disease that has an impact on the state of their cognition, and this risk is increased when environmental conditions are poorly stimulating [1]. Hence the importance of providing cognitive stimulation that is as tailored as possible to the needs of the individual.

Current cognitive stimulation practice tends to be directed towards isolated cognitive domains including attention, executive functions, memory, language, etc. And while there is evidence for the efficacy of current methods, there is concern about the effectiveness with which the improvement of these skills is generalised, leading to sustained improvement in daily functioning [2].

One of the major benefits of Virtual Reality is that it outperforms computer-based cognitive training by providing users with an immersive, safe and ecologically valid intervention [3,4]. Virtual environments invite the implementation of tasks that are representative of real-world demands as tasks can be constructed that will not only incorporate realistic contexts, but also elicit functional responses [5].

In this way, virtual reality facilitates self-training and overlearning [6], while involving active learning and can provide meaningful tasks that involve the perception-action feedback loop to encourage the transfer of knowledge and reasoning from a virtual world to the real world [7].

Due to these improvements over other techniques used to perform cognitive stimulation, it has been shown that the use of Virtual Reality, especially in cognitive functions such as attention [8,9], executive functions [10] and memory (visual [10], verbal [10] and episodic [11]), leads to more consistent improvements [10,12,13,14].

At the same time, improvements have been found in abstract reasoning [11], visuospatial ability [15], working memory [16], and even a reduction in both depressive symptoms [11] and behavioural disturbance [11].

As well as improvements in functions such as theory of mind and emotion recognition, in addition to social and occupational functioning [17].

If we focus on older people, we see that users with dementia show improvements in cognitive functions in general, especially in verbal fluency, visual attention [18] and different aspects of memory [19], such as autobiographical memory [20] and memory strategy implementation [21].

Therefore, we have seen that virtual reality works in a more ecological and efficient way the different cognitive functions, thus achieving a better and more lasting result in those users in whom it is applied. This makes it a tool to be taken into account when structuring cognitive stimulation sessions to be carried out.



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