Keio University students wear virtual reality headsets to experience what it is like to have dementia at an event in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, on Oct. 27. | KYODO
What does it feel like to forget where you are and why you’re at a place — in other words, what is it like to experience the symptoms of dementia?
Silver Wood Corp., operator of a housing complex for elderly people, has developed a virtual reality video that allows people to experience what it feels like to have dementia in hopes it will increase understanding of the illness.
In October, 20 students from Keio University watched three short VR videos at Ginmokusei, one such housing complex for the elderly in the city of Funabashi, in Chiba Prefecture.
When they put on the VR headsets, they saw a video that made them feel like a woman sitting on a train, not knowing where she was. The surrounding scenery was unfamiliar to her.
“Where am I, and where am I headed to?” a narrator says.
When the dumbfounded woman gets off the train with other passengers, a passer-by calls out to her, “Are you all right?” She feels relieved.
Silver Wood made the video with the help of staff at nursing facilities to raise awareness of the illness, which is manifested through a variety of symptoms. And VR seemed like a suitable media for others to experience what it is like to suffer dementia, said Tadamichi Shimogawara, 45, the company’s president.
In addition to the experience on the train, there are two others scenarios: what it feels like to lose the ability to gauge distances, such as how far to the ground, which makes it frightening for some to walk, and what it feels like to lose all sense of time and location.
The Keio University students exchanged opinions after the presentation.
“I didn’t know it feels like that,” said one student. Another said, “I had thought that having dementia means losing all kinds of feeling. If I had to go through the same thing, it would be frightening.”
Shimogawara, who hopes to create a better understanding of the illness, said, “There is a reason behind the behavior of dementia patients, and I don’t want people to discriminate against them just because of their symptoms.”
Takanobu Nakajima, a professor at Keio who specializes in social welfare for people with disabilities and economics, organized the event.