First developed to rehabilitate wounded Israeli soldiers, the virtual reality CAREN machine has also helped hundreds of injured Chinese earthquake victims to take their first steps to recovery.
Now those with dementia in northern England have begun test-driving the same revolutionary rehabilitation system to help with their condition – throwing them into a futuristic world where they can fight sharks, drive high-speed cars and try downhill skiing.
A specialist brain charity in Salford has installed the contraption – which is called Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment. The CAREN device, the first of its kind to be used by the public in the UK, puts patients at the helm of interactive games and activities and exposes them to ski slopes and shark-infested waters without any danger.
Around 30 people with mild to moderate forms of dementia are already taking part in a 12-month pilot rehabilitation programme called Virtual Adventures with £23,000 funding from doctors in the city who commission health services. The charity, BASIC, says the machine is already helping patients both physically and mentally. The aim is to test the long-term benefits. It is also being used to support stroke victims and people recovering from brain injuries.
Joy Watson, 56, a Salford mum who is living with Alzheimer’s after being diagnosed in June 2013, was among the first to test out the machine. Along with her husband, Tony, she has become a leading campaigner in fighting for better support for people with the condition. She said: “It was disorientating at first because my spatial awareness wasn’t that good, but it has really improved. I went skiing and walked through a forest. You are surrounded by a giant screen and it’s as if you are really there. It’s exciting because it’s so real. It’s exciting that people living with dementia in Salford can be part of this new initiative that could change the lives of so many.”
More than 29,500 people are estimated to be living with dementia in Greater Manchester, the region that includes Salford. Many of them are undiagnosed.
More than 3,000 people were given a devastating dementia diagnosis by doctors in the region last year as they launched a major bid to find and diagnose patients.
The rate of diagnosis in Salford, where more than 700 people develop dementia each year, stands at 76.3 per cent. The average diagnosis rate for England is just 48pc. Campaigners say early diagnosis is vital to ensuring that patients can get the right help and support.
In November, it was announced that Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, the Alzheimer’s Society, Salford Clinical Commissioning Group and Greater Manchester’s health and social care devolution team would join forces to create Dementia United – a partnership aimed at making the region more dementia friendly.
It will bring together charities, emergency services and a range of other organisations to establish joined up dementia services across the region. It will also pilot the use of case workers to support people with dementia and their families.
Sylvia Moss, neuro-physiotherapist at BASIC, a charity that provides physical, cognitive and emotional support for people with brain and spinal injuries, said the CAREN equipment being piloted in Salford is used by US and Israeli forces to treat wounded soldiers. She said: “This is the first machine of its type in a community setting in Britain and its already proving extremely useful in helping patients with their balance, walking and cognition.
“It is helping them with their day-to-day activities by putting them at the helm of a virtual world where they can try skiing, football, driving through traffic and sailing in waters surrounded by sharks. It’s a fun, stimulating and completely safe environment. Those taking part in the pilot are already seeing the benefits.”
Dr Tom Tasker, clinical lead for mental health at NHS Salford Clinical Commissioning Group, which provided the funding for the Virtual Adventures pilot scheme, said: “Over the next 12 months, we’ll be looking at how this revolutionary technology can help both the physical and mental wellbeing of people living with dementia.
Health news in pictures
Health news in pictures
1/19 Vaping backed as healthier nicotine alternative to cigarettes after latest study
Vaping has been given an emphatic thumbs up by health experts after the first long-term study of its effects in ex-smokers. After six months, people who switched from real to e-cigarettes had far fewer toxins and cancer-causing substances in their bodies than continual smokers, scientists found
2/19 Common method of cooking rice can leave traces of arsenic in food, scientists warn
Millions of people are putting themselves at risk by cooking their rice incorrectly, scientists have warned. Recent experiments show a common method of cooking rice — simply boiling it in a pan until the water has steamed out — can expose those who eat it to traces of the poison arsenic, which contaminates rice while it is growing as a result of industrial toxins and pesticides
3/19 Contraceptive gel that creates ‘reversible vasectomy’ shown to be effective in monkeys
An injectable contraceptive gel that acts as a ‘reversible vasectomy’ is a step closer to being offered to men following successful trials on monkeys. Vasalgel is injected into the vas deferens, the small duct between the testicles and the urethra. It has so far been found to prevent 100 per cent of conceptions
4/19 Shift work and heavy lifting may reduce women’s fertility, study finds
Women who work at night or do irregular shifts may experience a decline in fertility, a new study has found. Shift and night workers had fewer eggs capable of developing into healthy embryos than those who work regular daytime hours, according to researchers at Harvard University
5/19 Breakfast cereals targeted at children contain 'steadily high' sugar levels since 1992 despite producer claims
A major pressure group has issued a fresh warning about perilously high amounts of sugar in breakfast cereals, specifically those designed for children, and has said that levels have barely been cut at all in the last two and a half decades
6/19 Fight against pancreatic cancer takes ‘monumental leap forward’
Scientists have made a “monumental leap forward” in the treatment of pancreatic cancer after discovering using two drugs together dramatically improved patients’ chances of living more than five years after diagnosis.
7/19 Japanese government tells people to stop overworking
The Japanese government has announced measures to limit the amount of overtime employees can do – in an attempt to stop people literally working themselves to death. A fifth of Japan’s workforce are at risk of death by overwork, known as karoshi, as they work more than 80 hours of overtime each month, according to a government survey.
8/19 Over-cooked potatoes and burnt toast ‘could cause cancer’
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a public warning over the risks of acrylamide - a chemical compound that forms in some foods when they are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C).
9/19 Cervical cancer screening attendance hits 19 year low
Cervical screening tests are a vital method of preventing cancer through the detection and treatment of abnormalities in the cervix, but new research shows that the number of women using this service has dropped to a 19 year low.
10/19 High blood pressure may protect over 80s from dementia
The ConversationIt is well known that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia, so the results of a new study from the University of California, Irvine, are quite surprising. The researchers found that people who developed high blood pressure between the ages of 80-89 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) over the next three years than people of the same age with normal blood pressure.
11/19 Most child antidepressants are ineffective and can lead to suicidal thoughts
The majority of antidepressants are ineffective and may be unsafe, for children and teenager with major depression, experts have warned. In what is the most comprehensive comparison of 14 commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs to date, researchers found that only one brand was more effective at relieving symptoms of depression than a placebo. Another popular drug, venlafaxine, was shown increase the risk users engaging in suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide
12/19 'Universal cancer vaccine’ breakthrough claimed by experts
Scientists have taken a “very positive step” towards creating a universal vaccine against cancer that makes the body’s immune system attack tumours as if they were a virus, experts have said. Writing in Nature, an international team of researchers described how they had taken pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in the advanced stages of the disease. The patients' immune systems responded by producing "killer" T-cells designed to attack cancer. The vaccine was also found to be effective in fighting “aggressively growing” tumours in mice, according to researchers, who were led by Professor Ugur Sahin from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany
13/19 Green tea could be used to treat brain issues caused by Down’s Syndrome
A compound found in green tea could improve the cognitive abilities of those with Down’s syndrome, a team of scientists has discovered. Researchers found epigallocatechin gallate – which is especially present in green tea but can also be found in white and black teas – combined with cognitive stimulation, improved visual memory and led to more adaptive behaviour. Dr Rafael de la Torre, who led the year-long clinical trial along with Dr Mara Dierrssen, said: “The results suggest that individuals who received treatment with the green tea compound, together with the cognitive stimulation protocol, had better scores in their cognitive capacities”
14/19 Taking antidepressants in pregnancy ‘could double the risk of autism in toddlers’
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy could almost double the risk of a child being diagnosed with autism in the first years of life, a major study of nearly 150,000 pregnancies has suggested. Researchers have found a link between women in the later stages of pregnancy who were prescribed one of the most common types of antidepressant drugs, and autism diagnosed in children under seven years of age
15/19 Warning over Calpol
Parents have been warned that giving children paracetamol-based medicines such as Calpol and Disprol too often could lead to serious health issues later in life. Leading paediatrician and professor of general paediatrics at University College London, Alastair Sutcliffe, said parents were overusing paracetamol to treat mild fevers. As a result, the risk of developing asthma, as well as kidney, heart and liver damage is heightened
16/19 Connections between brain cells destroyed in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease
Scientists have pinpointed how connections in the brain are destroyed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, in a study which it is hoped will help in the development of treatments for the debilitating condition. At the early stages of the development of Alzheimer’s disease the synapses – which connect the neurons in the brain – are destroyed, according to researchers at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The synapses are vital for brain function, particularly learning and forming memories
17/19 A prosthetic hand that lets people actually feel through
The technology lets paralysed people feel actual sensations when touching objects — including light taps on the mechanical finger — and could be a huge breakthrough for prosthetics, according to its makers. The tool was used to let a 28-year-old man who has been paralysed for more than a decade. While prosthetics have previously been able to be controlled directly from the brain, it is the first time that signals have been successfully sent the other way
18/19 Aspirin could help boost therapies that fight cancer
The latest therapies that fight cancer could work better when combined with aspirin, research has suggested. Scientists from the Francis Crick Institute in London say the anti-inflammatory pain killer suppresses a cancer molecule that allows tumours to evade the body’s immune defences. Laboratory tests have shown that skin, breast and bowel cancer cells often generate large amounts of this molecule, called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). But Aspirin is one of a family of drugs that sends messages to the brain to block production of PGE2 and this means cancer cells can be attacked by the body’s natural defences
19/19 Potatoes reduce risk of stomach cancer
Scientists have found people who eat large amounts of white vegetables were a third less likely to contract stomach cancer. The study, undertaken by Chinese scientists at Zhejiang University, found eating cauliflower, potatoes and onions reduces the chance of contracting stomach cancer but that beer, spirits, salt and preserved foods increased a person’s risk of the cancer
“Virtual adventures is not only ground-breaking in what it can deliver, but more importantly, especially for those involved in the project, it enables them to exercise and receive rehabilitation in a totally safe and secure environment.”
Blueprints: Moving and mental health
Monitoring people’s movements could offer medics new ways to diagnose and treat mental health conditions in the future, according to a new study.
People who display similar behavioural characteristics tend to move their bodies the same way, the research found.
Each person has an individual motor signature, a blueprint of differences in the way they move compared to someone else, such as speed or weight of movement, the study, published in the journal Interface, suggested. It was carried out by researchers at the universities of Exeter and Bristol and institutions in France and Italy.
“What we demonstrate is that people typically want to react and interact with people who are similar to themselves,” said Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova, from the University of Exeter.
She added: “But what our study also shows is that movement gives an indication of a person’s behavioural characteristics. This could be used to help diagnose patients with certain conditions by studying how they move and react to others.”
The findings also suggest that people with comparable movement blueprints will find it easier to co-ordinate with each other during interpersonal interactions.