Dementias 2019 Annual Conference. A blog by Felix Clay

I’m now at the end of my six month NIHR CLAHRC EoE funded Academic Apprenticeship. As part of my placement I’ve led a systematic review of the literature on the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology in the assessment, understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease. There is good evidence that deficits in spatial cognition which present well before memory problems can accurately predict which individuals will develop AD.

It has been a great experience to move from a broad curiosity on this topic to a tightly defined clinical question and build a team of collaborators who can help explore this in detail. I have been lucky to receive support with this project from my academic supervisor Dr Annabel Price, Professor Paul Fletcher, Dr Dennis Chan and David Howett from the neurosciences research team and Academic Clinical Fellow Dr James Fitzgerald.

At the Dementias Annual Conference, held on the 14th-15th February 2019 in London, I presented preliminary results from our review. We have screened over 6000 papers for eligibility and used a PRISMA guided exclusion protocol to reduce these to 7 papers which were eventually included. Our review notes that current studies using immersive VR are not yet providing consistent evidence of how such techniques might be used more widely but some offer good discrimination and patients report preferring the naturalistic tasks to usual assessment methods. We found some promising case studies around treatment of AD symptoms but no larger studies have been completed yet. 

At the conference, we shared ideas on next steps including linking predictions to biomarkers, neuro-anatomically grounded models of assessment and potential for VR as a tool in treating BPSD.  At the end of the conference we were informed that we had won the prize for best poster. It was really nice to have this external validation of interest in the project and hopefully this will keep us motivated in the process of writing up the review for submission to a peer reviewed journal!

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