How Virtual Reality Is Poised to Help Seniors
Virtual reality is becoming a versatile tool, and it’s making a significant impact in senior care organizations. From helping residents to forge valuable relationships and connection to aiding in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke recovery, VR technology is supporting seniors in multiple ways.
Facilitating Connections and Social Engagement
When Kyle Rand founded Rendever six years ago, he did so with the goal of addressing the social isolation that is so common in senior care settings. “Rendever was built on the premise that the foundation of all human connection is positive shared experiences,” he says.
“In the aging process, your world shrinks a little bit in every step as you get older. If you don’t have the right opportunities or technologies, it’s really easy to become isolated.” Seniors gradually lose access to travel opportunities and to the world, as a whole. “Virtual reality enables you to reenter and reexperience that world,” says Rand. “With a virtual reality headset, you can be anywhere and be doing anything.”
Rand is using VR to tackle that problem of social isolation. Using VR headsets and programming, seniors can engage in shared experiences. Those experiences include options like animal therapy, music therapy, travel experiences, and opportunities to relive certain decades. The platform is built with a focus on active engagement, and residents have the opportunity to engage with each other, forging connections that can otherwise be difficult to establish in a senior care environment.
That VR technology also promotes physical engagement and mobility. Immersive experiences encourage residents, even those who are wheelchair-bound, to turn their heads, use their arms, and look around. Physical therapists have been able to use the programming to enhance and guide physical therapy sessions. “It brings in cognitive elements and physical exercise,” says Rand.
The technology has also helped to maintain connections between residents and family members who live at a distance. Both residents and family members can enjoy a VR experience together, then come together in a VR family room to engage and discuss the experience afterward. They have the opportunity to share stories and foster that important relationship and connection, even when they’re not able to be together in person.
Senior living organizations are using VR technology in many ways. Some have incorporated Rendever’s live programming, in which daily sessions are led by a Rendever staff member, as a key element of their own programming. These live sessions provide engagement and entertainment opportunities for residents, but are also particularly valuable because they don’t require a senior care organization staff member to be available to run the session. This is one example of how VR technology can help to supplement programming even when organizations are experiencing staffing challenges and limited staff hours.
Supporting Senior Rehabilitation
The Torque3 platform is a neurorehabilitation tool that supports recovery for TBI and stroke survivors. David Ellzey, CEO of Torque3, explains that while the technology was originally intended as a fitness solution, its value as a neurorehabilitation tool was quickly discovered. “Our approach is designed to maximize the neuroplastic remapping of the brain to restore lost functionality after a stroke or TBI,” he says.
To accomplish that goal, patients perform task-oriented therapy in an immersive environment. “We need them to be so deeply immersed that hey suspend their disbelief, which allows us to introduce the perception of risk,” he says. “This illusion that they are at some level of risk adds urgency and importance to all the tasks performed during therapy. A virtual environment also allows us to keep the tasks continually novel and challenging and even add meaningful rewards.”
Patients use a VR headset and a simulated pedal-powered vehicle to perform tasks, achieving that deep immersion. “When added to a motion simulation base that recreates g-forces and ground bumps, combined with advanced robotics to produce incredibly realistic feedback in the pedals and steering, and then finally a wind simulation system that includes a blended scent dispenser, you get an amazingly immersive experience,” says Ellzey. Patients can tour scenic areas and routes, immersing themselves in different settings while pedaling.
Torque3 is testing a program called the Alpha Lab, which is designed for participants who want to regain their independence. Scheduled to open in summer of 2022 in Centerville, Utah, the platform could transform the process of stroke rehabilitation.
The Future of Virtual Reality for Seniors
Virtual reality holds exciting potential for seniors and for senior care settings. As VR technology and its applications continue to evolve, we’re likely to see more use cases like those highlighted above. Within a few years, it’s likely that VR will be an integral element of most senior care organizations, and the technology may become an integral element of memory units and rehabilitation programs.
VR is just one more tool that senior care organizations will have to ensure quality, comprehensive care for all of their residents. “We’re creating a future where it doesn’t matter where you physically are,” says Rand. “Through virtual reality, you can become part of a community and age alongside your new friends and the connections you’ve been building throughout your life.”
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