Elderly Venture into Virtual Reality

New technologies are creating exciting ways for us to experience the world, even if we aren’t able to leave our homes.  For elderly people, who can no longer travel, are in poor health or suffer from chronic pain, escaping through a virtual reality program could also help break the monotony of daily life in long-term care and offer a much-need change of scenery.

The possibilities for visual reality technology lay far beyond the video game world aimed at our youth; programs have been developed for burn victims to help them manage pain during treatment and the Veterans United Foundation has created a virtual reality experience of war memorials for veterans who cannot travel.

National Public Radio recently shared the story of emergency room doctor Sonya Kim who was inspired by repeat hospital visits from seniors who were depressed and living alone to develop a VR program for the elderly.  Kim designed her Aloha VR program to provide an environment that creates a sense of safety and security for elderly patients, especially those with dementia.  Her voice gently guides the viewer through a 360 degree landscape of beaches and sunsets, with friendly reminders to take their medication in order to stay healthy.   For those who cannot process words, another version of the program uses only music and the sound of waves to offer a calming, stress free break from reality.  Clinical trials have found VR to be a useful tool in managing chronic pain, anxiety and depression.

Dr. Kim has partnered with One Caring Team, a subscription-based care service designed to supplement family caregiving, helping care for aging seniors with the goal of managing preventable health issues and in turn, lowering healthcare costs.

Some hospitals are also using VR to give long-stay patients an escape from living in a cold, sterile environment while recovering.   Virtual reality technology is also being tested as a tool to help patients recover following a stroke by offering interactive coaching and motivation.

To learn more about uses for Virtual Reality among the elderly population, visit http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/29/483790504/virtual-reality-aimed-at-the-elderly-finds-new-fans .