We usually associate the latest technology with the young, but in the case of virtual reality (VR), the earliest adopters seem to be the elderly. If you think about it, it’s not really a big surprise, especially given that many seniors are dealing with mobility and other health issues that make traveling around very challenging or prohibitive. Given the current state of affairs and the importance of staying safe at home, VR has the extra benefit of being able to transport a person to anywhere in the world and beyond.
The experience of “being there” has some benefits that help seniors stay connected to the larger world. Fighting isolation and loneliness may be one of the most important aspects.
“By supplementing their physical handicap with technology, the VR travel experiences can help improve the elderly’s motivation for rehabilitation and improve their quality of life. The VR experience makes them feel like they are out of the nursing home and can help ease their anxiety and loneliness,” said Kenta Toshima, a researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology Inami-Hiyama Laboratory.
Another amazing benefit of VR is the ability to experience a new home. We all know from experience and studies reveal how stressful it is to move, especially as we age. And, in many cases seniors may be moving into a new home and have to downsize. This can be very stressful as it is not easy to give up some of the belongings collected over the years. VR can help seniors more easily make decisions about where they may want to live.
Neuroscientists have learned the brain draws from emotions we’ve stored and previous experiences (both positive and negative). If it’s a positive experience, we continue; if it’s negative, we stop.
Virtual reality also allows us to go to places we have dreamed about and can transport us to different times. Imagine being able to see the pyramids or ride on a rollercoaster from the comfort and safety of your home no matter what condition the person is dealing with. This is another way of fighting social isolation. The feeling of being there may bridge the physical distance of separation from family and friends.
The latest VR technology being developed by AARP allows a sort of gaming application that permits multiplayer capabilities. For example, you can traverse a home with an elderly parent living alone. At first glance, the home seems ordinary, but users soon realize it is not.
“There are no bedrooms, bathrooms, or kitchen. Instead, it is home to a magical space that invites discovery and allows users to transport themselves to new worlds, and explore the complete immersion and interactivity that VR has to offer,” said Cezara Windrem, innovation catalyst and head of VR at AARP.
All of these benefits help seniors to stay cognitively stimulated and connected to the world and may help to improve the quality of life for everyone.
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