Brain injury charity pioneers virtual reality rehabilitation for people living with dementia

CAREN 2A revolutionary rehabilitation pilot for Salford residents living with dementia is being led by the Salford-based brain injury charity, Brain and Spinal Injury Centre (BASIC).

The virtual reality system – called Computer Assisted Rehabilitation Environment (CAREN) – allows people to work through life-size interactive games and activities, which provide safe but physically challenging environments.

Salford is the first city in the UK to make this equipment available to the public, thanks to BASIC.

The new CAREN system enables patients with a disability to practice real life situations in a safe and controlled environment, leading to improved physical stamina, better cognitive skills, dual tasking and improved confidence.

The advanced equipment is currently used by the US and Israeli armies to aid the recovery of injured soldiers.

The specialist brain injury charity has installed CAREN within its centre on Eccles New Road thanks to £500,000 worth of charitable donations. BASIC is now running a 12-month pilot called Virtual Adventures with the help of £23,000 worth of funding from Salford Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The pilot is working with 30 Salford residents who have mild to moderate dementia. It aims to help them physically and is looking to establish whether people living with the condition can benefit from virtual reality.

Wendy Edge, chief executive at BASIC, told Salford Online: “I am proud that we are able to introduce this ground breaking piece of technology to Salford, and I look forward to seeing it improve the lives of residents living with mild/moderate forms of dementia.

“Be it a walk through a forest or skiing down a mountain, people involved in the Virtual Adventures programme are aided in recovery and rehabilitation in a fun, stimulating and most importantly, a completely safe environment.”

Dr Tom Tasker, Salford CCG’s clinical lead for mental health, said: “We were delighted to be in a position to fund this pivotal pilot scheme.

“Over the next 12 months, we’ll be looking at how this revolutionary technology can help both the physical and mental wellbeing of people living with dementia.

“Virtual Adventures is not only ground-breaking in what it can deliver, but importantly, especially for those people involved in this pilot, it enables them to exercise and receive rehabilitation in a totally safe and secure environment where they can feel relaxed in their surroundings.”

Joy Watson, a resident of Salford involved in the pilot, said: “I’m really looking forward to being involved in this pilot as I’m fascinated to see how it will work and help me.

“It was great to discover that Salford is leading the way with this technology and that there is the opportunity for people living with dementia to be a part of an exciting new initiative that could change the lives of so many.

“I love the fact that this isn’t just your everyday run of the mill run around the park type of activity, but is new and ground breaking, and offers a great challenge, both physically and mentally.”

Dianne Yates, partner and head of serious and catastrophic injury for Birchall Blackburn Law and a trustee for BASIC, says: “It’s very exciting to see BASIC pioneering such a cutting edge project. It has wonderful potential for helping dementia sufferers but I’m also particularly excited about the chance of CAREN helping acquired brain injury victims. The opportunity to push your physical, mental and cognitive limits during rehabilitation in a perfectly safe environment is potentially life changing.”

BASIC offers support when medical treatment has ended and families are left to cope with the consequence of brain and spinal injury in the family. The Centre is open during the day, Monday to Friday and their services are available to anyone that needs help. Although BASIC mostly helps families who live in and around Greater Manchester, it is happy to help anyone with an acquired brain or spinal injury wherever they may live.

A CAREN open day is being held on Wednesday, March 16, during Brain Awareness Week, March 14-20, 2016.

For more information about BASIC and Virtual Adventures go to its website.