We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Sociology

Completed Projects

Using Virtual Reality Technology to Empower People with Dementia in Accessing and Using Public Spaces

A research project of the Department of Sociology.


The needs of people with dementia for support with navigation, orientation, comprehension and well-being when going outdoors have rarely been researched. This project makes novel use of computer-generated virtual environments to explore these needs. Our participants with dementia take �virtual walks� through these environments, enabling us to investigate what works well and what does not work in terms of design and planning.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Using Vr Technology To Empower People (£60399.86 from The Health Foundation)


To develop methods for using virtual reality technology with people with dementia, to apply these methods in exploring how people with dementia can be better facilitated in going outdoors, to test the results in 'real world' environments, and to propose 'dementia friendly' design and planning approaches for use by design professionals and local authorities


A variety of exercises are being carried out, collecting data using conversational interviews, video recording, route tracking, scoring, a questionnaire and pulse monitoring. A combination of qualitative and quantitative analysis will be undertaken with the aim of establishing whether there are discernible improvements for people with dementia in adapted virtual environments.


A pilot study examined the feasibility of virtual reality (VR) technology for use by people with dementia (PWD). Data were collected for six PWD regarding their experiences with a virtual environment (VE) of a park. A user-centred method was developed to assess presence, user interaction, display quality, simulation fidelity and overall system usability. The extent to which PWD could perform four functional activities in the VE was investigated, such as mailing a letter and finding somewhere to sit down. Physical and psychological well-being while interacting with the VE was assessed by recording heart rate and with discrete questionnaire items and real-time prompts. Symptom profiles associated with simulator sickness were assessed with a questionnaire. The study found that PWD to some extent experienced presence, perceived that objects in the VEs were realistic and moved naturally, generally felt in control of the interaction, and demonstrated little difficulty using a joystick for navigation. The study demonstrated that VR is an appropriate medium for assessing functional behaviour within the context of an ecologically valid VE.


From other departments