A Whole New World: Virtual Reality for Seniors

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Dance floors, deep sea diving and world-class museums are all part of the retirement plan for residents of Legacy Willow Bend. The men and women at this senior care center aren’t wealthy jetsetters. They’re participating in a virtual reality program.

The Dallas-based virtual reality company, Mynd VR, is providing content made specifically to entertain and enlighten the elderly. But the VR has health benefits, too.

Virtual reality is different than, say, watching TV, because it encompasses a participant’s entire view and essentially submerges them in the sights and sounds of a place as though they are really there.

The technology is thus being touted as a way to bring otherwise isolated seniors back out into the world — albeit a virtual world. It’s also being praised for its benefits to the elderly population dealing with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or vision problems.

George Grishman, a resident of Legacy Willow Bend who suffers from ailing vision, told KHOU the program has allowed him to see more clearly than he has in years. “When I walk past you in the hallway, I can see a figure, but I can’t make out who it is… I think this could help a lot of people like me, and others like people with memory issues.”

We know there are abundant benefits for the mental and physical wellbeing of the elderly by participating in activities and social interactions. But, as we age, partaking in these activities becomes harder, and sometimes impossible.

VR Therapy

Virtual reality could fill that gap by giving seniors access to a virtual world that could lead to improvements in their cognitive abilities. “Neural plasticity is in fact something that exists throughout our lives,” Ping Jiang, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki explained. “People can change their brains and cognitive abilities no matter how old they are.”

Jiang and her team in Finland are now looking into the direct benefits of VR on elderly adults’ cognitive abilities. “I think we can help people who could potentially suffer from cognitive decline later by keeping them active.”

Dr. Sonya Kim, the founder and CEO of One Caring Team in California, also found that VR helped her isolated and dementia patients by tapping into a world they otherwise couldn’t access. “Aloha VR has helped many of our patients feel reconnected to life. Some of the most challenging dementia patients … have benefited from our program.”

Sometimes, though, the greatest part of VR isn’t showing someone something new, but bringing them back to a special place. Reed Hayes, the COO of VR company Rendever, told Marketwatch that when he gave one participant a view of her old home, she was instantly comforted. “She said, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’ It gave her that small window of comfort, and when you work with dementia patients you know how rare those moments can be.”

The VR Market

There are multiple VR companies specifically tapping into the market to help the elderly. Talk to experts in your area about bringing it into your home, or discuss the possibility of implementing a VR program in your elderly loved one’s nursing home to explore the benefits.

Also, don’t forget to share this article with someone who would love to learn about how virtual reality is being used for the elderly!

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