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Monday, 24 April 2017 02:00

Young scientists are looking at virtual reality to slow cognitive decline

Can technology be the key that finally unlocks the mind of a person with dementia? For years researchers have been desperately searching for a way into the haze of the root cause of the brain’s memory loss, in the hopes of finding answers.

Now a couple of brilliant young minds are considering the prospect of not getting inside the mind, but perhaps allowing the mind of a person with dementia to do the exploring.

Ping Jiang and her team “Senior Cognitive Booster “ are semi-finalists in the Helsinki Challenge, a science based competition, and they are setting out to help increase cognitive ability with the help of a different perspective and some progressive virtual reality.

Jiang is studying paediatric brains which will be used for her final thesis, in collaboration with University of Helsinki and Aalto University.

A non-invasive study to measure brain activity

"We study how the development of the brain and the brain plasticity relates to cognitive functions of children, but neural plasticity is in fact something that exists throughout our lives. People can change their brains and cognitive abilities no matter how old they are," Jiang told News Medical.

Jiang foresees that using virtual reality will not only put the minds of the elderly in pleasant surroundings and offer new experiences, but will motivate them to remain active, something that is known to inhibit cognitive decline.

The Helsinki Challenge is described as “a platform for collaboration: science and arts communities, business, decision makers, public sector and other actors of the society – we all need to join the movement to make the goals for sustainable development reality. Through the Helsinki Challenge collaboration we can create solutions to grand challenges and for the future well-being – together!”

Virtual reality is fast becoming a way to enhance experiences, in particular the less enticing but necessary act of exercising. If it can be used to keep the elderly physically fitter and their brains healthier, it could put enormous strength behind the adage “prevention is better than cure”.

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