The Role of Virtual Reality
Benefitting and Enhancing the Lives of Seniors
Virtual reality (VR) technology creates a visually stimulating environment for the user that allows for interaction with an appealing, unique reality. Virtual reality is usually associated with a goggle-like head mount display system that completely covers the eyes.
Once the headset is activated, the user is placed in an alternative universe. The headset detects head movement, allowing the user to see what around them simply by moving their head to the left or right. VR also utilizes sound to further a realistic experience.
Since its invention in 1957, virtual reality has been used for entertainment such as video or movie experiences and video gaming, along with more complex medical and military training. With its increased use in professional fields, we've working to incorporate it into our care for senior citizens.
Benefits for Seniors
Enriched Cognitive Stimulation
Heightened Quality of Life
Brain stimulation is one of the most important things older adults must participate in, especially in retirement or nursing homes. Originally making use of bingo, puzzles, and interactive motor skills games, now some nursing homes are utilizing virtual reality to increase brain stimulation in older adults. The US National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health reported that a combination of physical and cognitive activity can lead to an improvement in cognitive health in seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), after conducting a recent study on virtual reality. During a 12 week study of nursing home patients in Taipei, Taiwan, researchers observed cognition function (global cognition, executive function, and verbal memory) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Life (IADL), pre- and post-intervention. Of those tested, only those participating in virtual reality saw a significant improvement in global cognition, verbal memory, and IADL. Further studies showed that virtual reality more significantly improved IADL than traditional Combined Physical and Cognitive Training (CPC). From this study, researchers concluded that virtual reality could be implemented for cognition enhancement in older adults, especially those with MCI.
With virtual reality, senior citizens can explore a new environment while remaining within the nursing home and often without getting up, avoiding any physical strain. Whether it's to take a walk on the beach, visit a favorite location in their city or anywhere in the world, users have the opportunity to explore based on their personal preferences. Along with exploratory experiences, users can also experience a virtual reality together, connecting multiple headsets to a single experience such as a game, movie, or specific environment. Regardless of its use, virtual reality keeps brain stimulation high in older adults and helps keep the brain active, responsive, and alert.
Virtual reality is also often used in the promotion of exercise among older adults. With an interactive environment, seniors may be more willing to do exercise or painful physical therapy with an exciting virtual experience.
Along with encouraging exercise, interaction with virtual reality allows for a distraction from the physical pain that many seniors experience. Whether walking on a beach or venturing through the desert, virtual reality allows for an escape from the physically painful reality for many seniors.
One of the greatest experiences virtual reality offers is the ability to reflect on the past. With the ability to travel anywhere in the world, users can visit old neighborhoods, streets, original countries, or their favorite location in nature. Often without the physical ability to do so, seniors are allowed the experience to travel and generate positive feelings of nostalgia from these visits.
Engaging Physical Exercise
Immersive Reminiscence Therapy
Improved Medical Outcomes
The medical industry has begun partnering with virtual reality companies to create tests to monitor senior citizens' brain function and cognition. These tests help evaluate senior brain activity, motor skills and can even identify early signs of Alzheimer's disease by testing how easily seniors can re-orient themselves in virtual environments.
With increased studies, researchers have observed an improvement in balance and stride consistency in seniors after playing a video game made to train multi-tasking abilities. This study showed that after a month of training, the older adults' performances could be compared to adults decades younger.
Whether its to visit a favorite or new location, to experience a 360 movie with fellow nursing home occupants and friends, or to interact in a new environment to stay physically active, virtual reality is a positive experience for seniors everywhere.
US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health Journal
The Medical Advice Journal