Virtual reality sparks memories for Alzheimer's patients


Senior Star at Dublin Retirement Village is on the cutting-edge of technology to help Alzheimer's patients regain memories.

Like most people who suffer from dementia, conversations are often repetitive. The brain won't allow them to make new memories so they keep repeating the same stories over and over again.

The "BikeAround" technology works to change that. Patients sit on a stationary bike and peddle, As they move the peddles up and down, the video screen in front of them moves down their neighborhood.

Eighty-nine-year-old Pat Stenner loves to talk about her home in Plain City. With the new device, she can now virtually ride down the street right to the home where she raised her three sons.

"This is the most conversation that we've had that is not repetitive,'' says her son Charlie.

Because the technology uses Google Street View, staff members can punch in any address in any town around the world.

In the case of 91-year-old June Lineback, she's peddling down Main Street in Bluefield, West Virginia.

"What's so good about a West Virginia hot dog?," asks her daughter Deb VanNorman.

"Coleslaw," says June.

The two continue to talk about where she used to work, what June remembers about the buildings that are going by as she peddles. It all helps stimulate the cognitive muscles of the brain.

Family members say this virtual reality experience is changing the way they interact with their parents.

"It's just a tremendous way for her to connect with her past," says VanNorman.

"The visual prompts the memory and the memory prompts conversation", says Charlie Stenner. He brought his mother Pat to the Senior Star Living Community in January.

The makers of this virtual reality technology admit it won't reverse the effects of Alzheimer's or dementia. What they do believe is that exercise combined with the technology can help with recalling memories of days gone by.

Senior Star is the first in the country to use the "Bikearound" technology.

For those who've experienced the ride, they say it's made a positive impact on their loved ones who struggle to remember the people and places of their past.

If you are experiencing memory problems:

  • Have a comprehensive medical evaluation with a doctor who specializes in Alzheimer's disease. Getting a diagnosis involves a medical exam and possibly cognitive tests, a neurological exam and/or brain imaging. Call your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association for a referral.
  • Write down symptoms of memory loss or other cognitive difficulties to share with your healthcare professional.
  • Keep in mind that there is no one test that confirms Alzheimer's disease. A diagnosis is only made after a comprehensive medical evaluation.