Virtual Reality Therapeutic Environments in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Alzheimer's: Treatment, Diagnosis, and Refinement

Virtual Reality Therapeutic Environments in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Alzheimer's: Treatment, Diagnosis, and Refinement

David W. Sime
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7168-1.ch004
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This chapter is devoted to observing and analyzing the role of virtual reality environments in the therapeutic treatment, analysis, and ongoing treatment planning of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), Alzheimer's, and dementia. Using live real-world examples of the above activities in action and a literature review, the chapter will examine the level of empirical data and pre-existing qualitative and quantitative research to support these ongoing approaches. Critical analysis will also be made of the current level of empirical research available highlighting areas that should be focused on for future research.
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This researcher has been working in the field of virtual reality and digital interaction with both Google, the Chartered Institute of Marketing (LinkedIn, 2018) and the immersive VR agency Oncor Digital (Fair, 2015). Primarily with an approach focused on applied user psychology and marketing communications, the foci of the last decades’ immersion in this field has nevertheless created links with many producers of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) content across a wide range of other applications. These span entertainment, educational and promotional applications, all of which have significant realised and unrealised potential as fledgling VR/AR technology establishes itself as a mainstream technology. However, perhaps, the most affecting application of VR is in the field of healthcare – specifically mental healthcare. A great many aspects of mental health have been approached with VR treatments and diagnostics. However, although much anecdotal evidence of benefits has been shared in online and offline media, perhaps because of the widely (and therefore thinly) dispersed activities, there has been a distinct lack of collected empirical research data in these fields. (Mikropuolos & Natsis, 2011). Although not an academic researcher, this author’s two decades in the field of marketing (where arguably 70% of activities are research, testing, measuring, recording and adapting to qualitative and quantitative analysis of research – Jain, 1989) has generated a strong interest in capturing reliable and comparable data which can be usefully applied across the ongoing and collective progression of VR in all of its applications – particularly healthcare where the sharing of information has always been a lynchpin of the disciplines’ development. (Walker et al., 2005). Similarly, the rapid progressions of the field of offline and online marketing media consumption, from primarily text and image based media through to audio, video and most recently immersive/interactive communications, has seen technological, behavioural and even sociological parallels that span all areas of human behaviour (Napoli, 2011) – not least healthcare. Finally, coming from an ongoing perspective based around psychology and sociology (stemming from regular study and application of consumer psychology) have highlighted the strong bidirectional link between media consumption/interaction and the psychological (even psychophysiological) condition of the participant (Shrum, 2009). It is the bidirectional and interactive nature of VR communication that provides the three specific foci for this chapter on its application to mental healthcare – namely not only treatment, but observation and recording of progress, and the resultant diagnostic potential of live and ongoing observation to continuously assess progress and accordingly adapt treatment plans. This chapter will examine precedents for these abilities across Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and Alzheimer's/Dementia.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Immersive Reminiscence: A connected series of virtual environments suitable for dementia sufferers to create benefits including memory recall, calming of agitation and building of real world community and communication in care homes and residential environments.

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET): The goal of VRET is to expose the patient to stimuli by combining advanced computer graphics, 3D visual displays, and body-tracking technologies to create realistic virtual non-threatening environment so that their mind and body can learn not to become alerted when they are exposed to similar stimuli in real life.

Head-Mounted Display: A device worn over a user’s head, providing a visual display in front of one or both of the user’s eyes.

Augmented Reality (AR): It is a technology that uses real world environment and enhances it by overlaying digital information on top of it.

Virtual Reality (VR): It provides the user with computer-generated simulation of a real-life environment or situation. The headset gives the user a fully immersive experience, where what a user sees is a generated or an artificial environment and nothing of it is in the real world. Example of VR is gaming consoles.

Mixed Reality (MR): It merges the real and digital environments that co-exist and interact with each other to produce new environment for the user to explore and manipulate.

Immersive Interactive Simulation System: It is a system that provides state-of-the-art interactive environment that blurs the line between the real and virtual world.

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