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Thursday December 1, 2016
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In January, three Alzheimer's patients will start trialing ‘travel therapy’ on board the virtual train. — Picture by Notre Dame de la Treille via AFPIn January, three Alzheimer's patients will start trialing ‘travel therapy’ on board the virtual train. — Picture by Notre Dame de la Treille via AFPPARIS, Dec 1 — In northern France, at the Notre Dame de la Treille retirement home in Valenciennes, residents suffering from Alzheimer’s disease will soon be invited to step aboard a virtual train. The experience, already used in Italy, will begin as a trial from January 2017 and seeks to help reduce the risk of patients running away while also calming their anxiety.

Since October, the Notre Dame de la Treille retirement home in Valenciennes has been gradually taking on the appearance of movie set. One of the rooms in this residential facility has been fitted out to resemble a train station, complete with signs, a ticket office, a bench, a clock and a train carriage.

The passengers stepping aboard this virtual train from January 2017 will be patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, accompanied by a medical professional from the retirement home’s team.

Screens will show landscapes outside the train window, changing in relation to the seasons and patients’ personal preferences. Against a backdrop of rolling countryside, urban scenes or coastline, these organised escapades will last between 15 and 45 minutes. “The aim is to create an emotional connection with the memory,” explains Laura Drici, nurse coordinator at the Notre Dame de la Treille retirement home. “We will be offering knitting or reading on board the train to revive a former pleasure in certain patients.”

This Valenciennes retirement home is the first establishment in France to test this kind of therapy, known as “travel therapy” and originating in Italy five years ago. The technique seeks to prevent the wanderings of Alzheimer’s patients who are often restless, agitated and can’t sit still. Some can cover up to 10 kilometres per day and are at risk of injury or getting lost.

“This journey gives the residents the impression that they are leaving and also calms their anxiety,” says Laura Drici. “We hope that this technique — which we will use as a distraction and in relation to patients’ needs — will reduce the need for medication and improve relationships with the team of caregivers.”

In Valenciennes, 10 members of the nursing team have been trained directly by the project founder, Dr Cilesi, a doctor in an Alzheimer’s housing unit in Milan, Italy. After following almost 100 patients who went on these virtual journeys, the doctor saw patient wanderings drop by an average 30 per cent, as well as a 40 per cent reduction in medication use. “Certain patients have regained the pleasure of eating and are seeing their chronic pain levels reduce,” adds Laura Drici.

In France, “travel therapy” will first be trialled with three patients who are not following any drug-based treatment. This will last for three months starting from January. It will then be extended to include a larger number of residents. Only patients presenting delirium or hallucinations or those resistant to this mode of transport will be excluded from the trial.

This kind of therapy is also being explored in Switzerland. Two retirement homes are currently trialling the technique to evaluate its benefits. — AFP-Relaxnews

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