Events have been organized nationwide, giving participants the opportunity to experience the effects of and better understand dementia using a virtual reality system that re-creates video images demonstrating such symptoms as hallucinations and memory impairment.

More than 4,000 participants have packed the events and sat in on the VR experience training sessions. They include people from schools and company employees who interact with dementia sufferers at work.

The company that produced the VR images has received a flood of requests to hold more of these events. Starting as soon as this summer, the firm plans to launch training programs to nurture instructors who have a basic knowledge of dementia with the aim of increasing its activities nationwide.

About 50 employees of Yakuju Corp., which operates a chain of dispensing pharmacies, recently wore goggle-type devices and headsets in its office in Tokyo. The exercise was part of the company’s training session to deepen employees’ understanding of dementia.

When the participants pressed buttons on the devices, audio and video of the VR images started playing.

In one scene, users could see a 360-degree view from the rooftop of a building. When the employees looked downward, they could see scenery below the building, which made them feel frightened.

Then a voice said: “No problem. Step forward with your right foot first.” When the employees looked back, they could see a man talking and smiling. The highly realistic graphics made some of the participants scream in fear. Next, the scene switched to one showing the dementia sufferer they were simulating as the person getting out of a car.

These VR images were produced based on a story of an elderly person with dementia who had an extreme fear of getting out of cars when traveling between home and a nursing care facility and insisted, “I felt like I was going to be hurled from a rooftop.”

Other VR simulations also included scenes that were recreated based on the experiences of dementia sufferers, some of whom had hallucinations, for instance seeing a worm on a cake, and those who were confused about what station to get off at when traveling by train.

The sets for the VR images were created by Silver Wood Corp., a Minato Ward, Tokyo-based company that operates about 10 facilities – including apartments with nursing care services for the elderly – in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The firm began producing the videos around January 2016, and plans to increase the variety of these kinds of simulations.

Dementia sufferers sometimes wander off, aim abusive language at other people or experience hallucinations. In many cases, people in their lives do not understand the symptoms, and these patients can feel increased stress that worsens the condition.

“Everybody can feel sympathy toward people with a cold as they have experienced it. I hope the realistic VR simulation makes people more sympathetic to those with dementia,” said Tadamichi Shimogawara, the 46-year-old president of Silver Wood.

The company has received several inquiries about the system from business operators that have contact with dementia patients via nursing care facilities and retailers. According to the firm, the VR events will be held almost every day until about November.

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