How Google Street View and exercise bikes are helping Alzheimer’s patients to remember

A street is projected on a large, curved screen, positioned in front of an exercise bike. On the bike a man pedals and, as he turns, the view on the screen morphs to follow his direction. Beside the bike is a sign, reading “jDome. Cycling inside your memories.”

How Google Street View and exercise bikes are helping Alzheimer's patients to remember

The jDome BikeAround, created by Swedish company Brighter, is designed to immerse patients living with dementia within a virtual replica of real-world streets – locations that have some personal significance and, the hope is, to kickstart a memory of a particular time or place: a walk to work. A walk home. A fight. A glance. A kiss. A sucker punch.

The street view is lifted from Google Maps, tinkered with enough to give the impression of responsive movement when cycling on the attached bike. The end result feels a bit like a video game – or a virtual-reality installation without the headset. At a VR showcase hosted by tech market analysts CONTEXT, Truls Sjösted, CEO of Brighter, tells me this interactive setup is intended to give a sense of agency to the patients.

“With this device, we can take the patients, put them in charge, go back to where he or she wants, and make him or her the guide,” he says. “The caregivers ask questions – ‘What’s that?’ ‘Do you remember that?’ You get a conversation going. The patient gets activity, both physical and mental. They get less restless, meaning less need for medication. They sleep better.”


Sjösted explains that the curved screen is designed to socialise the experience of using the jDome. The emphasis is on conversation between dementia patients and caregivers, or loved ones. Using a VR headset may increase the sense of immersion, but the risk would be that it cuts the patient off from the real world. Tracing memories down familiar streets is part of the process, therefore, but not the endpoint.

The jDome is currently in use by over 50 centres in Sweden. It isn’t the only project to use gaming and virtual reality to help dementia patients. Non-profit organisation Alzheimer’s Australia developed a prototype VR forest using Microsoft’s Kinect sensors, while Alzheimer’s Research UK made a VR app that simulates dementia – intended to give an insight into what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s.

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