Pakistani scientists harness power of virtual reality to bring new hope to dementia patients

Dr. Ali Jawaid tests a program and equipment for VR-based therapy for dementia patients during a study at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan, January 2021. (Photo courtesy: Walid Riaz)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistani scientists harness power of virtual reality to bring new hope to dementia patients

  • Results of new study demonstrate how virtual reality could slow disease progression and decline in cognitive function in patients
  • Two scientists employ ‘environmental enrichment’ where patient’s surroundings are made more complex and challenging in order to stimulate the brain

WARSAW: Two Pakistani scientists have published the results of a study that shows the decline in brain functions of dementia patients could be controlled, or slowed, with the use of virtual reality, offering new hope to sufferers of a neurological disorder that afflicts 55 million people worldwide.

Dementia, which is less a disease and more a group of related syndromes, manifests itself in a steep decline in brain functions. The condition destroys memories and personalities, robbing families of their loved ones and sapping patience and finances. With populations aging, the number of patients worldwide is projected to rise to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050, the World Health Organization said in a report this month.

There is no known cure for dementia and the focus of therapy has largely remained on slowing its progression. Now, in a study published in the Brain Sciences journal last month, Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Ali Jawaid and computer scientist Dr. Suleman Shahid have demonstrated how virtual reality could help those living with dementia cope with their condition.

“Usually, dementia patients progressively deteriorate in cognitive functions, but what we assessed was that during the whole study, which was more than six months, there was no deterioration,” Jawaid told Arab News in a recent interview in Warsaw, Poland, where he leads neuropsychiatric disorders research at the BRAINCITY center at the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology. 

His collaborator Shahid directs the Computer Human Interaction and Social Experience Lab at the Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan.

At the core of the two scientists’ latest work is using virtual reality for ‘environmental enrichment,’ a term used to describe changing a person’s surroundings to make them more complex, dynamic and challenging in order to stimulate the brain. Research on animals has variously found that environmental enrichment could aid the treatment and recovery of brain-related dysfunctions, including Alzheimer’s disease and others related to aging.

“In animals, we have discovered that environmental enrichment is one of the strongest protector factors against cognitive impairment induced by aging,” Jawaid said. “The challenge was how to bring this environmental enrichment to humans.”

Exercise and brain quizzes could work, he said, but were “stressful” and hardly ever engaging enough for dementia patients to do them regularly or for long periods of time. 

What Jawaid and Shahid did instead was immerse their study’s participants, all with mild dementia, in virtual environments depicting real-world landmarks familiar to them. As all the study participants were Pakistani, the three environments used were the Great Wall of China, the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and the pyramids of Egypt.

In each of the virtual worlds, the patients had to perform tasks designed to stimulate different domains impaired in dementia, such as short-term memory, attention, navigation, motor coordination or decision making.

Virtual environments depicting real-world landmarks — the Kaaba in Makkah and the pyramids of Egypt — used in a study on VR-based therapy for dementia patients by Pakistani scientists Dr. Ali Jawaid and Dr. Suleman Shahid. (Photo courtesy: Ali Jawaid)

For example, in one scenario, a participant would see balloons in the sky as they “walked” along the Great Wall of China wearing a virtual reality headset. As the sight triggered a childhood memory of shooting balloons, a virtual pistol or a bow and arrow would appear. Once the participant shot the balloons, the next task would be presented. 

“We were giving them all this cognitive training in the VR environment, and the results have been extremely encouraging,” Jawaid said.

“One of our patients was like ‘I miss playing golf.’ We arranged that he could play golf in the virtual reality environment. That was really motivating for him.”

The way the therapy is designed keeps the participants engaged much longer than most studies of this type, BRAINCITY vice president Dr. Ewelina Knapska said.

“What was done here was the development of a task that was attractive to older people,” she told Arab News.

The longer dementia patients are willing to be in therapy that increased brain activity, the more possible it is for them to remain independent. But the cost of such care and therapists is very high.

Dementia costs the world $1.3 trillion a year, this month’s WHO report said.

“It [dementia treatment] is very expensive,” Knapska said. “Such VR therapies are much cheaper and therefore much more accessible.”

FATF begins new plenary session, will determine Pakistan’s ‘grey list’ status

Updated 57 min 23 sec ago

FATF begins new plenary session, will determine Pakistan’s ‘grey list’ status

  • The watchdog put Pakistan on list of countries with inadequate terror funding and money laundering controls in June 2018
  • Outcome of the plenary to be announced on Thursday after meeting ends, Pakistan hopes for good news

ISLAMABAD: The Financial Action Task Force announced the beginning of its new plenary on Tuesday in which it will take up a number of issues and determine if Pakistan can be removed from a list of countries with strategic deficiencies in their financial system.
The global dirty money watchdog placed Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries in June 2018 since it found vulnerabilities in its financial system which could be exploited for terror financing and money laundering.
Pakistan has tried to address the FATF concerns by implementing the recommended action plan, and its progress has also been acknowledged by the international body.
“The Financial Action Task Force Plenary has started,” the FATF announced in a Twitter post. “Due to COVID-19 it is a hybrid meeting, with delegates from around the world meeting virtually and in person.”

According to a statement issued by the global watchdog, “the outcomes of the FATF Plenary will be published on Thursday 21 October, at the close of the meeting.”
The meeting, which is taking place under the German presidency of Dr. Marcus Pleyer, will also be observed by global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said earlier this year there was “no justification” for the FATF to keep his country on the grey list since it had taken extensive measures to curb money laundering and terror financing.
“We will have to see if the FATF is a technical forum or … being used for political purposes,” he added.
The global financial watchdog recently expressed satisfaction with Pakistan’s progress, though it also gave the country another action plan to fix a separate set of problems to strengthen the financial system further.


Russia, China, Pakistan willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

Updated 19 October 2021

Russia, China, Pakistan willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now
  • The United States did not join this round of talks in Moscow but said it planned to do so in the future

MOSCOW: Russia, China and Pakistan are willing to provide aid to Afghanistan, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday, but Moscow said it was not yet ready to recognize the Taliban government.
The promise of humanitarian aid and economic support came after talks between Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials, who will be joined by representatives of Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was withholding recognition from the Taliban while waiting for them to fulfil promises they made when they took power, including on the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government.
Critics say the former rebel movement is backtracking on pledges not to sideline women and minorities, or persecute foes.
“Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now,” Lavrov told reporters. “Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfil the promises they made when they came to power.”
In mid-August, the Afghan government collapsed as the United States and allies withdrew troops after 20 years on the ground, leading the Taliban to seize power in a lightning offensive.
Russia, which fought its own disastrous war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, is trying to seize the diplomatic initiative to avoid instability in the wider region that could damage its interests.
In particular it is worried by the possibility of Islamist militants seeping into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, a region Moscow views as a defensive buffer.
Other Russian officials have tempered expectations for Wednesday’s talks. The United States said it would not join this round but planned to do so in the future.
Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, said last week he did not expect any major breakthrough at the talks.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described them as “an attempt to know what will happen in Afghanistan going forward.”

Pakistan, Iran discuss situation in Afghanistan, call for 'close coordination'

Updated 19 October 2021

Pakistan, Iran discuss situation in Afghanistan, call for 'close coordination'

  • The Pakistani foreign minister says sustained international engagement is essential to address the situation in Afghanistan
  • The Iranian FM says Tehran fully supports Pakistan’s initiative for a regional approach on the war-battered country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi emphasized “close coordination” among Afghanistan’s neighboring states to ensure greater peace and stability in the region during a phone call with his Iranian counterpart on Tuesday.
According to the foreign office of Pakistan, Qureshi received a call from the Iranian foreign minister Dr. Hossein Amir Abdollahian who invited the Pakistan to participate in the second ministerial meeting of the neighboring countries of Afghanistan which is scheduled to be held in Tehran next week.
The Iranian official discussed the overall regional security situation during the conversation while pointing out that Tehran fully supported Pakistan’s initiative for a regional approach on Afghanistan.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi thanked his Iranian counterpart for the invitation and expressed the hope that the meeting would impart further impetus to the regional approach on the situation in Afghanistan,” the foreign office said in a statement. “He emphasized that close coordination was essential to help Afghanistan on path to peace, stability and development.”
Qureshi emphasized that sustained international engagement was essential in view of the evolving economic situation in Afghanistan.
“He expressed the hope that international community would ramp up provision of humanitarian assistance on urgent basis, in view of the upcoming winter season, and take steps to ensure economic stability in the country,” the statement added.
The first ministerial meeting of Afghanistan’s neighboring countries was held in September after Pakistan urged China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to come together and discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
The ministerial meeting was also preceded by a virtual meeting of the special representatives and envoys of the six neighboring states for Afghanistan.

Like rest of Pakistan, social media too lights up in Mawlid Al-Nabi colors

Updated 16 min 44 sec ago

Like rest of Pakistan, social media too lights up in Mawlid Al-Nabi colors

  • Several Pakistani social media users shared photos of the country’s bright decor to mark the occasion
  • The day began with 31-gun salute in Islamabad and 21-gun salute across provincial capitals

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan on Tuesday celebrated Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), with cities around the country lit up with beautiful colors.
The day began with 31-gun salute in the federal capital, Islamabad, and 21-gun salute across the provincial capitals.
The Prophet’s birth anniversary is observed with great religious zeal on the 12th day of Rabi Al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar.
However, Prime Minister Imran Khan requested the nation to celebrate the occasion this year like “never before” in a video message shared across his official social media accounts on October 16, 2021.

President Arif Alvi also maintained it was imperative for Muslims to follow the example of the Prophet (PBUH) since it was “the key to their success” in this world and the hereafter.
“The only solution to all the challenges facing the Muslim ummah, including anarchy, hypocrisy, oppression and injustice, can be found in the life of the Prophet (PBUH),” he said.

Australia’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Geoffrey Shaw shared on his official Twitter account that his local friends had sent him sweet rice, a traditional dish people serve while observing Mawlid Al-Nabi.


The country’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party shared a shot of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence decked out to mark the occasion.




A Twitter user from Rawalpindi shared a number of images, showing bright lights in mosques, market and alleyways.






Journalist Ali Tanoli shared images of Islamabad from the night before, showing landmarks like Faisal Mosque and Bari Imam lit up.



Twitter user Syed Hashir Shah shared photos of lights hanging above bustling markets in Karachi, Pakistan.




Journalist Waseem Abbasi posted the photo of Pakistan’s largest Rabi Al-Awwal cake ordered by the authorities in the federal capital on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan.



Discover Pakistan TV, the country’s first tourism-dedicated outlet, also shared colorful shots from across the country.





PM Khan promises rule of law as nation celebrates Mawlid Al-Nabi

Updated 19 October 2021

PM Khan promises rule of law as nation celebrates Mawlid Al-Nabi

  • Says will strive to create welfare state in following the teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH)
  • Birthday of Prophet (PBUH) is celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi Al-Awwal by Muslims all over the world

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday his government wanted to establish the rule of law in the country by following the principles established by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) which required a state to hold its powerful citizens accountable for their misdeeds as well.
Khan made the comment while addressing a national conference in Islamabad as people across the country celebrated Mawlid Al-Nabi – or the birth anniversary of the Prophet (PBUH) – with traditional religious fervor.
The Prophet’s birth anniversary is observed on the 12th day of Rabi Al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar, by Muslims all over the world.
The prime minister emphasized in his speech no society could progress without maintaining equal standards of justice for everyone.
“The central pillars of the State of Madinah established by our Prophet (PBUH) were morality and rule of law,” he noted. “A welfare state always looks after its people irrespective of their status. We will have to make the powerful abide by the laws of this country. Otherwise, we will not be able to fix the system.”
He said a leader should be honest and trustworthy, adding that the two qualities were also quite prominent in the Prophet’s own personality.
Khan reiterated he was striving to implement in his country the political ideals that were central to the State of Madinah.
“I will keep on fighting for the rule of law in the country until my last breath,” he continued. “We have to bring the powerful within the ambit of the rule of law.”
The prime minister said his government had formed a special authority to apprise the people about the life and teachings of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH).
“Children have access to all types of information through mobile phones these days,” he said. “The challenge is to show them the right path and direction. The newly established authority will provide guidance to our youth by showing them different aspects of the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
He added the objective of setting up an Islamic welfare state that followed the principles of the State of Madinah had been there in his party’s manifesto for 25 years.
“Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave women right to property which they did not have it before,” he said. “The State of Madinah also introduced the concept of providing pension to older people.”
Earlier, while addressing the first session of the conference, President Dr. Arif Alvi emphasized the need for promoting unity among Muslims in the light of the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH).
“The last Prophet preached not to spread discord and said that Muslims were united like a single body,” Alvi said, adding that the revolution that emerged from the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah had truly transformed the world.
“I have a firm belief that change in Pakistan and the Muslim world will once again come from the mosque which holds special significance in the character building of a nation,” he maintained.
A special documentary on the life of the Prophet (PBUH) was also screened at the conference.