Among the many new technologies on the market, virtual reality offers plenty of possibilities for exploration as it can be used in different industries including senior care. The technology has arrived at the right time with mobile devices already being widely used by the elderly. Although they generally lag behind their younger counterparts, users aged 65 and older said that owning a smartphone offers ‘a liberating experience’.
Smartphones are also the core of many VR headsets. They can either be connected directly to the wearable or wirelessly to render virtual reality images. However, there are particular features that make a handset VR-ready. Most premium handsets are the compatible device for head-mounted displays as they offer powerful features that enable high-definition VR apps to run. In a published post, tech resource O2 mentioned that smartphones have improved the most important features to offer a seamless experience for users (battery, display, connectivity, OS, etc).
But even with a basic knowledge of smartphones, are seniors ready to adopt VR?
VR For Relaxation
Dr. Sonya Kim tested a new virtual reality program for the elderly. She chose 103-year old Virginia Anderlini to try out the demo version of the program. In reality, Anderlini was only sitting on the sofa of her San Francisco assisted-living facility. But in the virtual world, she was on a Hawaiian beach looking out at the sunset and surrounded by the calming sea.
Anderlini is part of Dr. Kim’s Aloha VR program that aims to assist people to relax by offering calming environments for those who can’t get out much. It’s a great alternative to watching TV. The immersive world offers an escape that “allows them to forget their chronic pain, anxiety, the fact that they are alone,” Dr. Kim said.
VR is also a great solution to prevent Dementia. One in nine people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to Dementia. VR is able to manage chronic pain, anxiety and depression, which are three common symptoms of Dementia patients.
“Dementia patients often feel lost, because they feel that they don’t belong anywhere,” according to Dr. Kim. “Most elderly are confused about their surroundings or who they are, or estranged from their family overwhelmed by their care. By presenting them a beautiful and peaceful view of the beach, Dr. Kim said, “I want them to feel found again.”
VR For Social Connections
Although they still have friends in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, some seniors struggle to connect with other people even those within their age bracket. Social isolation and loneliness were found to be health risks to the elderly. As a solution, Steven Baker and many other researchers launched a VR platform that overpowers public isolation for seniors.
“Partner’s die or restriction of their capabilities due to age, lead to the isolation of older people. Some of them avoid the external world because of their appearance. This VS study solves this problem. This idea helps older people to overcome this barrier,” according to Baker’s report.
The platform allows them to meet other participants using an avatar, communicate with them and go on various adventures. The use of avatars will help the elderly to introduce themselves in a network society easily.
VR For Exercising
Virtual reality doesn’t only offer brain exercise, but also helps them become motivated to exercise. Research from Aalborg University in Denmark revealed that the technology can inspire seniors in nursing homes to exercise. Even with full access to fitness facilities and physical therapists, many of them do not exercise as it causes them pain.
The research project wanted to make exercising for seniors a digital experience. They conducted a study where large TV screens were placed in front of exercise bikes. As they pedal, users get to view various virtual landscapes while the speed is determined by their output on the bikes that are linked to the screens. Currently, participants of the program have increased their fitness levels. It has been such a success that many of the residents as well as their relatives have asked for the technology to become a permanent fixture moving forward.
Although virtual reality and other new technologies are offering efficient ways to stay in shape both physically and mentally, nothing can replace human interaction. Seniors still need to be comfortable in the environment they are living in. However, VR is a great alternative for those who can no longer travel to beautiful destinations and communicate with others as it can provide them with much needed escapes away from their standard days stuck at home.