28th November

The WayBack: challenging dementia with virtual reality

A few years ago, a group of friends decided to team up on a Kickstarter project after seeing their loved ones face Alzheimer’s. They came up with the idea to use virtual reality to trigger happy memories, helping those living with this cruel disease as well as their family members and friends. They called it The WayBack, as sometimes the best way forward is to go WayBack!

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is the biggest health challenge this country faces, costing more than cancer or heart disease?

Alzheimer’s affects our ability to remember, understand and communicate and often leads to severe memory loss and the inability to recognise friends or family members, which is heartbreaking to see.

At some point, this disease will inevitably affect everyone’s lives. We see this first-hand every day at the Huntington & Langham Estate and although we provide support and reassurance to the people who live here and their loved ones where we can, people often feel vulnerable and helpless.

Virtual reality offers a way to go further, which is why we were delighted when we were asked to be involved in this pioneering project, putting new technology to good use and helping to improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s.

The initial stage of the Kickstarter project saw the team ask for help to get the concept off the ground, and incredibly, 230 backers pledged £35,040 to help bring this project to life.

The next step was to make the first in a series of VR films a reality, realistically recreating iconic moments from history – complete with costumes and props – tapping into the viewer’s long-term memory and temporarily immersing them in a familiar time.

The first project the group decided to focus on was the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, chosen to spark vivid memories and precious conversation; and although the video is in the past, it can trigger connections with loved ones and carers in the present. Here at the Huntington & Langham Estate, the people who live here were lucky enough to be some of the first to try out this wonderful technology, and now you can too. Lasting for just a few minutes, this film is free to view through any smartphone – all you need is a pair of cardboard VR goggles, and these are widely available for around £3.

This is what our MD, Charlie, had to say about the project: “Dementia can leave you feeling unsure about every situation you find yourself in but being immersed in familiar moments when the dementia didn’t exist, such as watching the Coronation on a black and white TV, seemed to instil a feeling of certainty and security in our residents.”

This first film went live in November 2017, but there are more in the pipeline. And better yet…

We are delighted to say that today, The WayBack was announced as the winner of Challenge Dementia, a national prize seeking to improve the lives of people living with dementia.

What an amazing achievement! Congratulations to all those involved.

It really was incredible to be involved in such a pioneering project and we can’t wait to see the impact The WayBack will inevitably have on dementia care, both here at the Huntington & Langham Estate and in homes across the country and further afield.

Here’s to the next chapter of this incredible idea that’s sure to change lives, for the better. With the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 already covered, plus England’s World Cup victory in 1966 and the 1969 Apollo landings in the pipeline, what significant event in modern history will we be watching through our virtual reality headsets next? Whatever it is, we hope we can help by testing it out here in our home.

Visit thewaybackvr.com to find out more and to download the free WayBack app.

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