Using a virtual environment to assess cognition in the elderly
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KeywordsVirtual reality; Spatial memory; Mild cognitive impairment; spatial navigation
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Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is essential if treatments are to be administered at an earlier point in time before neurons degenerate to a stage beyond repair. In order for early detection to occur tools used to detect the disorder must be sensitive to the earliest of cognitive impairments. Virtual reality (VR) technology offers opportunities to provide products which attempt to mimic daily life situations, as much as is possible, within the computational environment. This may be useful for the detection of cognitive difficulties. We develop a virtual simulation designed to assess visuospatial memory in order to investigate cognitive function in a group of healthy elderly participants and those with a mild cognitive impairment. Participants were required to guide themselves along a virtual path to reach a virtual destination which they were required to remember. The preliminary results indicate that this virtual simulation has the potential to be used for detection of early AD since significant correlations of scores on the virtual environment with existing neuropsychological tests were found. Furthermore, the test discriminated between healthy elderly participants and those with a mild cognitive impairment (MCI).