How Virtual Reality Benefits Seniors & Improves Their Lives

Technical Things To Know

How Virtual Reality is Improving the Lives of Seniors

 

For many, growing old is no picnic. Aging adults are often forced to overcome many obstacles. Some suffer from depression after losing spouses, other family members, and friends. They may have health issues that keep them from enjoying their previous favorite pastimes. Seniors often suffer from loneliness and isolation as they age.

Whenever a new technology becomes more prevalent and affordable, senior care experts try to determine how the innovative products can be used to make life better for the older population. Virtual Reality is now the hot topic within that community. Experts are now asking themselves how virtual reality can improve the lives of senior citizens.

Before we discuss the benefits, let’s define Virtual Reality.

 

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) technology enables users to feel they are a part of a simulated environment. VR products are usually associated with head-mounted display systems that completely cover the eyes.

VR display systems do not merely play a movie for the user. Instead, users actually feel as if they are in this different environment. When users turn their heads, they see what is to the right or left of them in this alternative universe.

Most VR systems also utilize sound to make the user feel as if he or she is in a simulated environment. More complex systems also include touch and smell.

While one can easily see how such systems could be utilized in the gaming industry, how can they help the growing population of senior citizens? Here are some ideas.

 

VR can be used to diagnose medical issues

The medical industry has been partnering with Virtual Reality companies to create tests to study the brain function of older adults. Such tests help measure a senior’s thinking abilities and motor function.

For example, VR systems have been used to find early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. To do this, seniors are tested to see how well they re-orient themselves in a different environment.

Scientists are using this technology to find issues with balance. Once these issues are uncovered, the family can move forward with strategies to help prevent falls within the home.

 

VR can be utilized to improve medical conditions

Although the research in this field is somewhat new, a study shows that playing a video game that was originally designed to train multi-tasking abilities, enabled seniors to improve their balance and gait. This study showed that after one month of training, an older adult’s performance could be compared to the level of someone decades younger.

While using VR systems within the medical community is exciting, how can the technology be used to enhance the day-to-day life of an older adult?

 

VR systems help stimulate the brain

For decades we have known how important it is for older adults to participate in brain-stimulating activities. For years, nursing homes have provided bingo and puzzles for their inhabitants. Now, some facilities are utilizing VR technology to keep the older adults’ brains stimulated.

They do so by allowing the senior citizen to explore a new environment. Whether the program takes the older adult down a path in a jungle or into a nightclub to listen to jazz music is dependent upon the personality of the user.

While some use VR merely as an enhanced movie, other nursing homes have also used simple games that utilize Virtual Reality.

Regardless of how the technology is used, VR helps keep the brain active, alert, and responsive. It can easily be added to a nursing home’s list of activities that have often just included card tournaments and movie nights.

 

VR helps promote movement of senior citizens

Not all VR is the same. While some systems use only the headsets, others can be used with sensors that are placed on the body’s limbs. To move throughout the simulated environment, the users are forced to move their limbs as well.

A senior may be more willing to do daily exercises or painful physical therapy should they have other worlds to look at during the process. Anyone may be more motivated to move should they have something other to look at than a blank wall or inane TV program.

 

VR Can Help With Pain Management

Although pain is not unique to senior citizens, the older population suffers from pain more often than the younger crowd. VR technology has been used to help treat pain by giving the patient something else to focus upon.

Seniors can become immersed in a calming beach scene or invigorating mountaintop experience. While their brains focus on those views, they become distracted from the pain caused from arthritis, disease, or normal aging.

Of course, this technique can be used to help any patient who experiences pain. From burn victims to cancer patients, VR has been used to distract people from pain since this technology first existed.

 

Virtual reality can take a senior back to days of their youth

As we age, it is normal to spend time reflecting on days past. While some seniors have the benefit of physically returning to the places of their youth, others do not have that luxury.

Virtual reality programs enable people to return to old neighborhoods, original countries, or favorite spots in nature. Many times older adults are not physically capable of such a trip.

While returning to those spots may be bittersweet, those visits usually produce positive emotions of nostalgia.

 

Take Caution

Since there have been few studies done on this somewhat new technology, it is prudent to exercise caution. This is especially true when trying VR technology on someone with dementia.

Make sure the VR technology is actually improving the life of your loved one. Try it over short periods first until you understand how the senior citizen will react. Even during that short period, look for signs of distress or increased confusion. Remember that most current senior citizens didn’t grow up with the technology we have become accustomed to in our lives. They may distrust VR technology.

Do some research to determine how VR technology may improve the life of your senior loved one.

 

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