Virtual Reality Tech Could Help Detect Cognitive Decline in Adults

Recent research emerging from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London suggests that a virtual reality test where participants ‘go to the shops’ could offer an effective and promising way of observing functional cognition— processing and thinking skills required to carry out everyday tasks.

The research was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It uses a state-of-the-art virtual reality shopping task called ‘VStore’ to assess cognition. VStore requires people to participate in tests designed to look like the real world. Researchers believe it has potential to test for age-related decline in cognition in the near future.

The trial consisted of 142 healthy people ranging from 20 to 79 years. Each participants was required to ‘go to the shops’. They would be required to verbally recall a list of 12 items, before being evaluated on how long it took them to collect the items, select the corresponding items on a virtual self-checkout machine, pay and order for a cup of coffee.

Cognitive tests, like the ones used to calculate the deficits in neuropsychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s disease are time-consuming and tedious. VStore was created and designed to overcome these challenges and provide a more accurate, cheap and engaging process of exploration of cognitive health.

The virtual shop possessed the complexity and complications of everyday life. This meant that participants were able to better engage the brain structures relating to spatial navigation, like the entorhinal and hippocampus cortex, which can be affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

The researchers were also able to establish that VStore engages a number of principal neuropsychological functions simultaneously. This implies that the functional tasks involved in virtual reality may include a greater number of cognitive domains than standard assessments.

‘Virtual reality appears to offer us significant advantages over more traditional pen-and-paper methods. The simple act of going to a shop to collect and pay for a list of items is something that we are all familiar with, but also actively engages multiple parts of the brain. Our study suggests that VStore may be suitable for evaluating functional cognition in the future. However, more works needs to be done before we can confirm this’, Professor Sukhi Shergill, lead author of the study.

Lilla Porffy, the study’s first author from King’s IoPPN said, ‘These are promising findings adding to a growing body of evidence showing that virtual reality can be used to measure cognition and related everyday functioning effectively and accurately. The next steps will be to confirm these results and expand research into conditions characterized by cognitive complaints and functional difficulties such as psychosis and Alzheimer’s Disease’.

By Marvellous Iwendi.

Source: King’s College London