Virtual reality (VR) technology enables users to don a headset and immediately become immersed in 360-degree worlds that are highly-realistic and responsive. No longer just the purview of science-fiction, this cutting-edge technology has life-changing potential for many users.
Now, researchers and entrepreneurs have begun to explore the potential for VR technology to make a huge difference in the lives of senior citizens. From making advancements in early detection of cognitive diseases, to decreasing feelings of isolation and disconnection, to encouraging healthy levels of exercise, virtual reality demonstrates incredible potential. Here, we take a look at how VR technology can improve the lives of senior citizens.
Earlier Detection for Alzheimer’s Disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 1 in 10 adults age 65 or older has Alzheimer’s-related dementia. This brain disease impacts memory, decision-making, and reasoning in older adults. While there is no cure, seniors benefit greatly from early detection.
Though there is no single, conclusive test for Alzheimer’s disease, exciting research from the University of Cambridge shows that virtual reality can be a more powerful tool than currently-used cognitive tests in identifying early Alzheimer’s Disease.
In the study, researchers used virtual reality technology to test seniors with MCI (mild cognitive impairment) on their ability to navigate — since issues with navigation are an early hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The patients wore VR headsets and were tested on their navigation skills while walking. The tests were effective in identifying those at low and high risk of future dementia, suggesting that VR could play an important role at early detection of Alzheimer’s in the future.
Decrease Feelings of Isolation & Loneliness
Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly common for seniors to experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. A national study from the University of Michigan polled a sample of adults ages 50 to 80 and found that 34% felt that they lacked companionship, while 27% reported feelings of isolation from others. Feelings of isolation in seniors often go hand-in-hand with chronic illness, mental health issues, and even reduced life expectancy.
With virtual reality technology, seniors — and especially those with dementia or mobility restrictions — can recapture a sense of connection to their friends, family, and homeland. Rendever’s VR technology allows seniors to feel connected to family and social events that they are unable to attend by creating a virtual reality experience. In this way, seniors can virtually attend baby showers and weddings with their family — helping them feel a greater connection to the outside world and reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.
See the World, Have Fun, and Reduce Pain & Stress
Watching the sun set on a beach in Hawaii, exploring educational exhibits at a museum, enjoying the outdoors at a National Park, seeing a favorite musicians at a concert — all of these experiences become less and less feasible for senior citizens with dementia, mobility limitations, or health conditions.
New VR technology allows seniors the ability to see the world, cross items off their bucket list, and immerse themselves in memories of their childhood neighborhoods and homelands. Companies like MyndVR and Rendever offer seniors the ability to enjoy a 360 degree experience — from outer space to the tree-lined avenue of their childhood neighborhood — from the comfort of their home or assisted living facility.
In addition to providing an opportunity for seniors to see the world and have fun, VR can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and pain. Take, for example, SnowWorld — a virtual reality landscape developed to provide pain relief for people recovering from serious burns. Virtual reality provides a welcome and consuming distraction for those in chronic pain or stress, and therefore has massive potential to improve quality of life for senior citizens.
Make Exercise more Appealing
Physical activity is crucial in preventing chronic health issues, boosting mood, and extending lifespan for seniors. Despite this, a whopping 80% of American adults aren’t reaching the daily recommended amount of exercise.
Fortunately, recent research suggests that virtual reality technology can be a powerful motivating force for exercise. In a study from the Aalorg University in Denmark, researchers provided VR headsets to seniors in the activity room of a Copenhagen nursing home.
While seniors rode on exercise bikes, they used VR technology that enabled them to truly feel connected to the outdoor world. Instead of feeling confined and uninspired inside the activity room, participants reveled in the highly-realistic nature scenes offered by the VR experience. In light of this study’s success, it’s clear that VR technology could provide the extra push some senior citizens need to get their recommended daily amount of exercise.
Virtual Reality’s Promising Future for Seniors
As VR technology becomes more accessible, researchers are hopeful that that they can make serious strides in improving physical, mental, and social well-being for senior citizens both at home and in assisted living facilities. These exciting technological strides — along with crucial community-based aging resources — can make all the difference for senior citizens’ quality of life and provide a promising and exciting future of care.