Virtual Reality and It's Impact on Senior Care
Monday Jun 13th, 2022
Virtual reality (VR) is no longer a futuristic technology and is being used in a range of settings.
Virtual reality is a cutting-edge technology providing new opportunities in a variety of sectors including retail, healthcare, tourism, and real estate. And as the world becomes increasingly digitized, senior care facilities are beginning to explore the potential of virtual reality.
By immersing seniors in realistic, interactive environments, virtual reality can help reduce boredom, loneliness, and anxiety. It can also provide stimulating mental and physical activity. For example, virtual reality can be used to take seniors on virtual field trips, providing them with a way to explore new places without leaving the safety of their home.
In this post, we delve deeper into virtual reality and what this technology has to offer to seniors and other older adults.
What Is Virtual Reality and How Does It Work?
Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that can be experienced through a headset. Instead of simply watching on a screen, users are immersed in the environment and feel that they are actually interacting with it. This is made possible by special sensors and tracking systems that detect movements of your head and body (VR headsets are often paired with hand controls). As a result, you are able to interact with the virtual world in a natural way.
The simulated VR experience can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment such as video games, education (for example, medical or military training), or retail (giving customers an in store-experience). As the technology develops further, it is expected that virtual reality will become increasingly widespread and have an impact on many areas of society and industry.
Virtual reality equipment is becoming easier to access. For example, you can purchase headsets and controls such as those produced by Meta and Sony from online or in-store retailers. There is even a cardboard headset Google Cardboard which can be used alongside apps downloaded to a smartphone. Other companies such as Rendever and MyndaVR have produced VR programs designed specifically for use by groups of seniors.
What Are the Benefits of Virtual Reality for Seniors?
When it comes to seniors and other older adults, there are a number of benefits to using VR technology. Due to various constraints, including medical, physical, and financial, many seniors are unable to participate in a vast number of real-world experiences, for example, riding a rollercoaster, going on safari, or even visiting family and friends.
Virtual reality enables them to experience all these things and more, and offers the following key benefits:
- Reduced isolation: Virtual reality can provide seniors with a way to stay engaged and entertained. By immersing them in stimulating environments, they can stave off boredom and loneliness.
- Improved physical health: Many VR experiences require physical participation, and the technology has been used in the treatment of various conditions including Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
- Social interaction: While video conferencing provides an excellent way to socialize, virtual reality takes things a step further by making the participant feel like they are actually in the room with other people.
Although virtual reality experiences are technically individual, if you have a group participating at the same time, this shared experience can spark wonderful conversations and help forge a better sense of community and camaraderie.
What Are Some Virtual Reality Applications for Seniors?
There are many potential applications of virtual reality for seniors. Some examples include
- Virtual travel and time travel: With VR, seniors can explore new places without leaving the safety of their home or care facility. Whether it’s a “field trip” to an amusement park, a trek to a mountain peak, or a trip down memory lane, the possibilities are endless. Being immersed in these experiences can provide much-needed stimulation and a sense of exploration. Apps like Wander and National Geographic are ideal for these types of experiences.
- Social experiences: Virtual reality can be used to create social experiences, such as group games and dance parties. According to Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” so it’s vital that seniors have the tools to overcome this. Apps like Alcove enable multiple users to enter a virtual room where they can chat, play games, and more.
- Cognitive training: Virtual reality can be used to improve cognitive function through games and other activities. For example, VR can be used for therapeutic purposes, such as helping dementia patients recall memories.
- Preparing to move: Moving to a different house, apartment, or facility can be overwhelming for many seniors. VR technology enables them to be immersed in their new setting beforehand so they can get used to it before the actual move.
- Relaxation: It can often be difficult to shut out outside distractions enough to truly relax or meditate. Apps like Zen Zone provide a VR meditation experience where the user is fully immersed in the experience, helping them to completely relax.
As VR technology continues to evolve, it is likely that the use of apps like Wander will become more popular in senior care settings.
What Are the Risks of Virtual Reality for Seniors?
Like any new technology, there are some risks associated with reality experiences. However, these can be mitigated by following some simple safety guidelines. VR users should take regular breaks to avoid eye strain, dizziness, or nausea. They should also cease use if any of these symptoms appear.
If the VR experience involves physical activity, it’s important that the user is far away from any obstructions that could hurt them or cause them to trip or fall. They should also stay well-hydrated. People with certain health conditions, for example, psychiatric disorders, heart issues, and vision problems, should consult a doctor before using VR technology.
Virtual reality has the potential to revolutionize senior care. By providing seniors with new ways to stay engaged and active, VR can help improve their mental and physical health. In addition, it can provide a form of social interaction, which is essential for emotional wellbeing.
If you’re interested in exploring virtual reality for yourself or a loved one, follow the safety guidelines mentioned above and be sure to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that virtual reality is appropriate for you.