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Can virtual reality help dementia patients? A North Carolina startup thinks so

CareYaya is using VR as therapy for patients living with memory loss.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Virtual reality (VR) is already a popular platform for gaming and other immersive experiences. But CareYaya, a startup based in North Carolina, is rolling out a program to use VR as therapy for patients living with Alzheimer's or dementia.

Neal Shah, CareYaya's CEO, said "[VR and dementia patients are] not something you would think about -- but there's a big therapeutic impact."

Shah said people who are living with memory loss - like those diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's disease - are often placed in more confined spaces out of an abundance of caution. But that can limit the life experiences they enjoy, which he said can actually increase the rate of brain deterioration.

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The new VR program aims to combat this by safely engaging seniors at home with VR headsets. They can virtually travel to other parts of the world while sitting comfortably in their chairs.

"So somebody might be able to travel to London, somebody might be able to go see the Eiffel Tower," Shah said. "They can go underwater diving off the coast of Australia."

Shah adds since VR is so immersive, it's proven to be therapeutic, boosting moods and helping seniors feel less alone and depressed. Another key part of the therapy Shah highlighted is the ability to spark old memories again.

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"It's triggering memories of trips they've taken decades past," he said. "It's been really heartwarming to see the impact."

Contact Tradesha Woodard at twoodard1@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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