Every now and then, we travel back in time in our minds, remembering the beautiful experiences we once had. We imagine the gardens we played in when we were kids, the smell of the lindens starting to bloom, or even the beaches we visited on our first summer vacation.
These memories seem cloudy, but some parts of them are more specific than others. Even though that’s just the natural way our bodies react to the passage of time, could you imagine completely losing your memories forever? This is a common concern for seniors with dementia whose memory is fading.
The memories we hold onto make us who we are and attach us to our families, friends, and loved ones. Stories and events from the past bring us joyful moments and losing those can affect our overall happiness. If only there were a way to reenact them once again…
In recent years, we’ve seen virtual reality break the boundaries of entertainment and technology as we know it, creating space for experiences that are set to stick with us. However, the virtual reality potential now extends far beyond pure entertainment; we can see it being used in anything from business to relaxing eye exercises, and its technological advances directly providing a novel solution.
The same technology that has been used to defeat extraterrestrial creatures is now utilized in the senior living business. Some of its advantages for seniors include less loneliness, improved medical treatment, as well as bringing adventure, and entertainment.
Virtual Reality Potential: The Museum of Your Life
With its cumbersome headsets and controllers, VR is most commonly associated with teenage gamers, who have a slew of companies vying for their money. But on the flip side, companies like MyndVR and Rendever decided to utilize the technology in ways to help elders battle with their cognitive and medical difficulties.
Besides increasing application of VR in healthcare, there are already several senior facilities that have started to use VR solutions in elder care across the United States. The benefits are many, as any activity that encourages curiosity, critical thinking, and meaningful social interaction is beneficial to brain health and fitness. Because the technology gives users a sensation of presence by engaging the visual, auditory, and vestibular systems, they may experience new and remembered—or completely neglected—experiences like it’s their first time.
Seniors are now able to go back in time and revisit their favorite memories and activities like snorkeling with sharks, traveling through the historic highway Route 66, or even attending jazz concerts, all captured with 360° cameras in every possible direction.
How can all this affect the happiness of older adults? Here are some of the essential benefits VR has to offer.
Keeping the Brain Active
Maybe the most important virtual reality potential in elder care is providing mental exercise. While there is no conclusive scientific consensus that it’s a helpful treatment for memory loss in seniors, two recent studies looked at the use of reminiscence therapy in alleviating symptoms like apathy. Their findings support the hypothesis that VR might enhance psychological wellness.
Recent research from the University of Maryland found that utilizing this technology to learn and remember new knowledge improved the brain’s accuracy by 8.8 percent. Other research has found that the technology can assist build brain linkages that support our sensory, motor, and cognitive functions, allowing us to increase cognition. It may not delay cognitive decline, but consider how it might affect patients’ and their families quality of life.
Virtual reality may transport individuals to physical and emotional locations they would never be able to explore otherwise. Maybe more than a photograph, immersive experiences can allow a person to put themselves in locations of the past, absorbing all of the beautiful or complex sentiments connected with those particular locations.
This also helps in the process of reminiscence therapy, stimulating the senses of touch, smell, sound, taste, or sight. People with dementia are able to recall people, places, and events from their life.
It delivers a sense of comfort by evoking nostalgic recollections and sensations. A headset may be designed to display images from one’s past, such as photos of one’s childhood neighborhood, school, or home.
Preventing Social Isolation
Almost one-fourth of people aged 65 and over report feeling socially isolated. Because they are more prone to suffering from living alone, losing a family member, or developing a chronic condition, older people are at a higher risk of isolation and loneliness. Long-term isolation, if left untreated, can lead to depression, anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure. On the other hand, VR technology can help solve this problem by letting seniors and their families explore new worlds together, breaking down the physical barrier between them.
Virtual field trips let older people visit exciting places or try out new activities together. Socializing has been made more accessible and more natural by giving people a shared experience, which is important for making and keeping new friends.
It also helps people feel like they belong, giving them a sense of purpose, boosting their self-esteem, and improving their physical and mental health. It can be an interactive thing for families to do when they visit their loved ones, and it might serve as a lot of fun for the grandkids, helping them build relationships with people of different ages.
We’ve already seen the virtual reality potential in different forms, but it was mainly aimed at younger individuals and gamers. Now that it’s being used in such an important way with older generations, it makes us even more excited to see what’s next to come.
This serves as an essential piece of technology that could help residents and their families live better lives. Seniors are now able to mingle and socialize more and feel less alone, thanks to headsets that connect them with both distant family members and close neighbors. Elders are able to experience happy emotions and recall pleasant long-term memories but also explore new places that cognitive illnesses would not otherwise allow.