Are we There Yet? Immersive Virtual Reality to Improve Cognitive Function in Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Meelad Sayma, BMBS, BSc; Remco Tuijt, BA, MSc; Claudia Cooper, BMBS, MRCPsych, MSc; Kate Walters, BMBS, BMedSci, MRCGP, MMed, MSc, PhD


Gerontologist. 2020;60(7):e502-e512. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background and Objectives: Cognitive training therapies may delay cognitive deterioration in dementia. There is potential to enhance delivery through immersive virtual reality (IVR), as removing potential distractors for cognitively impaired individuals can enhance their experience, resulting in increased engagement. Evidence in this field is emerging and not yet synthesized. We aimed to summarize research investigating the use of IVR in dementia to evaluate the current extent of use, acceptability, feasibility, and potential effectiveness. We also aimed to identify gaps in current research and to create a set of recommendations in utilizing this therapy.

Research Design and Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted. Our review was registered with PROSPERO, registration number: CRD42019122295. We undertook searches of five databases, article references, and citations. Key authors in the field of health care VR were also contacted to identify additional papers. Articles were assessed for inclusion by two researchers independently. Data were extracted using standardized forms.

Results: Our search identified a total of 2,824 citations, following screening for duplicates and application of inclusion and exclusion criteria, five studies were included for analysis. Included studies were heterogeneous, with small sample sizes and mixed outcomes.

Discussion and Implications: We were unable to reach definitive conclusions over the use, acceptability, and effectiveness of IVR for dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Future studies should focus on ensuring their interventions are truly immersive, developing more robust controls and account for the rapid rate of obsolescence in digital technologies.