New Study Reveals Virtual Reality Can Enhance Emotional Well-Being and Engagement in Seniors

A study by Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab in collaboration with Mynd Immersive and AT&T G5 Healthcare reveals how valuable virtual reality can be to support senior well-being and engagement.

The study examined older adults’ attitudes toward new technology and virtual reality, and explored the different healthcare applications that virtual reality can have. It also examined caregivers’ feelings around facilitating virtual reality experiences for older adults.

Chris Brickler

Chris Brickler, CEO of Mynd Immersive

Notably, the study found that 81.5% of caregivers reported that they enjoyed interacting with residents while the residents used Mynd Immersive more than while participating in other activities. Additionally, 94.9% of caregivers reported that Mynd was moderately to extremely beneficial to their relationship with the residents, while 83% of residents also reported that using Mynd was moderately to extremely beneficial to their relationship with caregivers.

The technology impacted residents in several positive ways, with 57.9% of older adults reporting that they felt less isolated from the outside world after using Mynd. Plus, 74.2% of the caregivers reported that the residents’ moods improved after using Mynd, and 79.2% of residents reported that they felt more positive after using the technology.

While senior care communities have increasingly embraced virtual reality technology, this study provides intriguing data, and the consistency between caregiver and resident responses is particularly interesting. In conducting the study, Stanford’s lab surveyed 245 older adults and 39 caregivers in 16 senior care communities within 10 states. To date, this is the largest study conducted on virtual reality and older adults.

What the Study Results Mean for Senior Care

Chris Brickler, CEO of Mynd Immersive, was quite surprised by some of the study results. “I think we’ve always known that the improvement of mood is very much in target with what the technology can deliver, and to have a quantification of that not at three percent but 80% of the respondents saying it improved their mood, that was a bigger number than I expected,” he says.

While Stanford didn’t originally approach the study with a focus on looking at caregivers, the Mynd team had witnessed a very large impact on caregivers and their relationship with seniors and relayed that information to Stanford. “Often in senior care you might have multiple generations without a lot in common to talk about,” Brickler explains. “Virtual reality provides a socialization platform for that relationship to flourish.”

Learnings About Virtual Reality in Senior Care

“Over the last seven years since I started this in 2016, we’ve really learned a lot about where the technology can fit, how it has to fit, and how you have to approach organizations to provide a solution that’s easy to use right off the shelf,” says Brickler. He notes that the technology provides a higher level of engagement than most other types of technology. “I like to talk about the idea that we lift people out of the four walls and into another place,” he says. In turn, residents have a chance to reconnect their consciousness with art, especially with live music. “When we have the artist presenting to the camera and you put on the headsets, you feel like you’re right there in the room. It’s vastly more impactful than a 2D TV screen on the wall.”

Brickler notes that residents tend to lose their connection to travel, but virtual reality can help take people on trips to places they’ve never seen. “The engagement we’re seeing in memory care in particular is really interesting,” he says.

Brickler is also exploring other ways to use virtual reality in senior care. Through a partnership with Select Rehabilitation, Mynd Immersive is releasing a new like of virtual reality applications called MyndXR. Therapists will be able to use these applications in the therapy room. “We can take a senior to a meadow and let them catch butterflies in the patterns of shoulder rehabilitation,” he says. “We’re getting work done through fun, engaging therapy.”

Mynd Immersive is also working to help support staff with MyndCare, a portfolio of applications for staff. Staff can use virtual reality in the break room as part of their wellness support, and the technology could help train new caregivers.

There have also been enormous challenges in bringing virtual reality to senior care. One challenge was the size of the headsets; commercial units made by other manufacturers are very heavy. Mynd Immersive designed a lightweight headset that weighs less than a cup of coffee to help ensure residents are comfortable. The headsets are also able to be cleaned and sanitized, so they can be shared between residents.

Identifying and creating content that residents would connect with was also a challenge. “The content produced for virtual reality is mostly geared for teenage gamers,” he explains. As a result, Mynd Studios focuses on producing virtual reality content specifically for seniors. One example of such content is a 10-part series on Route 66. It explores the iconic locations on the road and is produced with a slower pace in mind. “We have hundreds of original experiences that have been tested with older adults,” he says.

Advice for Senior Care Communities on Adopting Virtual Reality

Given the feedback received, virtual reality is poised to support both residents and staff. Additionally, with the increase in different ways that this technology can be put to use, senior care communities could see even greater benefits from investing in virtual reality. “If a community wants to train their employees more effectively, provide tools for therapists, and is interested in really engaging with seniors on a content level, Mynd is what we’ve developed for them,” says Brickler.

“Progressive communities are looking at this in a multi-year way to grow their business,” he explains. He notes that customers often use Mynd as a marketing tool to help with census. They’re able to show families how they’re using the technology to support residents in multiple ways. Since family members are generally younger, the technology becomes a valuable selling point.

Adopting virtual reality in senior care can be a valuable investment in resident wellness, as well as in caregivers. The technology is rapidly evolving, and has moved beyond providing resident engagement and entertainment to providing much more comprehensive support to benefit the senior care community as a whole.

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