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Video Games Used for Dementia in Pasadena Research

Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 | 5:30 pm

Pilot tests of an ambitious project using video games for treatment of dementia, conducted at Front Porch’s Villa Gardens Retirement Community in Pasadena, have shown promising results especially in curtailing adverse patient behavior.

The project, “Healing Spaces,” was reported last month at the Los Angeles E3 (electronic entertainment expo) 2018, by recent college graduate Gabriela Gomes, based on her thesis at the University of Southern California.

A report in Variety said Gomes’ Healing Spaces wasn’t like anything else at the industry’s largest trade show.

Healing Spaces is described as “a smart platform that allows caregivers to transform spaces through light, color, sounds, and visuals, turning any environment into a place where older adults living with dementia can focus, engage and relax,” according to Gomes’ website,

As she filled out her application for IndieCade’s booth at E3, Gomes was well aware her project was a far cry from things usually found in the show floor.

“I just thought that it was not something normally seen on the show floor or maybe not a good fit,” Gomes told Variety. “So I was very surprised when we were invited to showcase, and really just grateful for the opportunity to celebrate this kind of work in such a setting.”

Healing Spaces creates a vivid and natural forest or seaside scene on any surface through a smartphone app and a few clever physical items. Scented oils create the olfactory illusion of the scene on screen, while sensory boxes containing items normally found in that scenario produce the tactile sensation.

The app adds visual and auditory involvement through the selected scene, and any room is instantly transformed into this new space, the Variety article said.

In a seaside scene, the app displays a sunny beach and clear blue seawater on the screen, and a scented oil concoction in a vial smells of sunscreen, while crashing waves can be heard through iPad speakers. The seaside sensory box contains shells and a kinetic sand that feels like sand but doesn’t leave anything on the user’s hands.

Gomes’ idea for Healing Spaces came from her personal connection with dementia. Her grandmother battled with Alzheimer’s in her later years.

“I thought ‘it’d be nice to make something I wish I had at that time,” she tells Variety. “Back then I had no knowledge of her condition, and no idea how to interact with her.”

She researched on the interactivity of video games and how it could merge with dementia care, and multi-sensory environments, or MSEs, attracted her interest. She took the concept before her advisors at USC’s School of Gerontology, who in turn connected her to the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Well-Being in Pasadena.

Before long, she was doing pilot tests of eight patients at Front Porch.

Currently, the demo has only the Seaside and Forest scenes, but Gomes says she plans to add even more landscapes. She also plans to put out an online tutorial where caregivers can learn to create their own sensory boxes and landscapes.

“Seeing our current ‘Healing Spaces’ demo in action at Villa Gardens has been incredibly insightful,” she says in the Variety story. “I feel there’s still a lot more to explore when it comes to different interaction and play patterns before we think about expanding content-wise.”

The report said Tanya Mazzolini, manager of the “Summer House memory care unit at Front Porch, and Megan Hee Soo Park, Field Project Coordinator and Trainer, have been helping in the project since its planning stages.

“We do work with students all the time so we are familiar and are very appreciative of passion and passion projects that are school-based,” Park tells Variety. “It was extremely rewarding getting to work with Gabi and help her hone in on what she really wanted to do – whilst of course still managing the expectations of the community and staff. The foundation for which this idea stemmed was genuine and because we had access to Gabi and her brain (and heart), it felt much more personal than if we were working with a company.”

Gomes is currently pursuing her MFA in Interactive Media and Games Design at USC. She obtained her BFA in Visual Communication-Digital Media, Magna Cum Laude, from the American University in Dubai.

For more information about Healing Spaces, visit







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