Can a virtual nature experience reduce anxiety and agitation in people with dementia?
Identify cost-effective treatment strategies that improve quality of life for individuals with dementia when environmental or financial conditions prevent the creation of therapeutic gardens.
By 2050, the number of individuals in the United States with dementia is projected to be 16 million, with a current cost of care at $259 billion. The majority of individuals with dementia experience stressful emotions of agitation along with associated behaviors that are challenging for caregivers. A large body of research has found that viewing nature reduces stress and improves mood, but few studies have examined the potential of viewing nature for reducing the stressful emotions and associated behaviors experienced by individuals with dementia. In this study, 14 memory care residents were exposed three times to a virtual nature experience and an old movie from their generation. Before and after each exposure, stress associated with agitation and anxiety was measured by heart rate, and emotions were measured with the Observed Emotion Rating Scale and the Agitated Behavior Scale. This study found that with as little as 10 minutes of exposure to a virtual nature experience, stress as measured by heart rate was significantly reduced, anxiety was reduced, and pleasurable emotions increased. These findings hold great promise for a cost-effective treatment approach that can potentially improve the quality of life for individuals with dementia and the individuals that care for them.