Virtual Reality at the service of people with Alzheimer’s disease

A new solution in virtual reality that aims at the early detection of cognitive decline is being developed by Virtuleap in collaboration with Lusíadas Group.

From programs that help medical students practice surgery, to 3D platforms that enable disabled patients to experience different environments, Virtual Reality (VR) has also shown the potential to streamline the diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases. Among those is Alzheimer’s, a condition that requires a high level of planning to deliver proper care to patients in the various stages they go through.

Having innovative technology to improve healthcare was precisely what led Roche to partner with the collaborative innovation consultancy Beta-i to develop the Building Tomorrow Together: Innovation in Dementia program.

The initiative aims to foster the development of sophisticated solutions that improve the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s Disease and contribute to the validation and implementation of innovative technologies by health institutions.

In line with these objectives, Virtuleap, a company working at the frontier of neuroscience and virtual reality, created Cogniclear VR, a test that evaluates cognitive function in immersive and multisensorial 3D environments.

The current prototype includes 14 exercises that are used to assess different areas of cognitive performance, such as memory, attention, problem-solving ability, and temporal orientation, among others. These cognitive abilities are similar to the ones assessed by traditional tests, in pen and paper format, that are scientifically validated and currently applied in clinical contexts to assess the possible cognitive decline of patients.

VR offers superior engagement because patients perceive the digital experience as real while capturing an order of magnitude more data than other technologies. That data includes several behavioral variables that enable an in-depth description of the cognitive state of patients.

Virtuleap’s participation in “Building Tomorrow Together: Innovation in Dementia” was a starting point for the first clinical studies in collaboration with Lusíadas Lusíadas Saúde. “At Lusíadas we are focused on people, and if there is any technology that can be a facilitator in such a crucial field like mental health, we are obviously happy and committed to support and collaborate so that it reaches the reality of the general population. We congratulate Roche for the initiative and Virtuleap for the challenge posed to us.”

The pilot study has so far included tests with 29 participants in multiple sessions.

The goal is to evaluate the level of usability of the Cogniclear VR prototype with a sample of participants over the age of 55 in a controlled clinical setting.

“So far, feedback obtained through surveys regarding usability has been positive. All observations recorded in the pilot contribute to a better match between the final prototype and the specific needs of the users for whom the tests are intended “, adds Bebiana Sá Moura, Head of Partnerships at Virtuleap.

Collaboration with the Lusíadas Saúde also revealed some important questions in the practical application of Cogniclear VR. Patients’ low digital literacy and some physical constraints can be a challenge to the use of VR equipment and have made recruitment more difficult. However, Virtuleap has considered this and adjusted the development of the tool. For Virtuleap, the success of the study will ultimately depend on two factors: providing a product that meets the needs and expectations of the clinical team but also achieving a practical application for the product based on all the feedback obtained.

The goal for the product is the certification as a medical device to be widely used in everyday clinical practice. This will require the implementation of additional scientific studies to meet the requirements to achieve the CE marking.

Although it may take some time, Amir Bozorgzadeh, Virtuleap´s CEO, is optimistic given the positive reception of the technology in Portugal: “Despite some barriers to technological transformation, the national health system already uses some telemedicine practices and digital tools and this creates a favorable environment for the creation and implementation of new solutions in the country.”

As an immersive diagnostic tool, Cogniclear VR aims to revolutionize how health professionals approach neuropsychological testing in the early screening stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The utilization of Virtual Reality will allow for the detailed observation of subtle symptoms of cognitive impairment, which often go undiagnosed due to the lack of sensitivity of the tools at the professionals’ disposal.

The goal is to provide timely information on the patient’s cognitive status to all those involved in their care, enabling earlier cognitive decline diagnosis and treatment.