Not Just for Kids VR Technology is BEING embraced by Seniors
Imagine viewing the stunning spectacle of the Aurora Borealis, exploring the pyramids of Giza, and walking amongst hundreds of penguins in the Antarctic all on the same day. You no longer need to be a jet-setting billionaire to enjoy these once-in-a-lifetime experiences—you just need virtual reality.
The concept of simulated, multi-sensory experiences first emerged in the realm of science fiction in the 1930s. The idea truly began to capture popular attention in the 1980s, and by the late ’90s, the appetite for augmented reality was strong thanks to Hollywood blockbusters like The Matrix. Unfortunately, the actuality of this technology was still rudimentary and decidedly underwhelming.
Fast-forward to 2019, where anyone with access to a VR headset and platform can have an immersive 360 degree experience that is visual, audible, and in some cases even tactile. Finally the reality equals the virtual hype. And it’s not just for kids.
While many new gaming systems employ augmented reality targeted to teens and avid gamers, other companies have been focused on developing VR experiences for older generations. Case in point: the Boston-based start-up Rendever has been actively developing systems for seniors. This award-winning company promises to help users “explore the world and reconnect with family” using their VR platform. It not only works, the actual experience is fantastic.
A few years ago, RendEver partnered with Maplewood Senior Living, and together they created a pilot program that was tested in four Maplewood senior residences in Connecticut.
“The pilot program was so successful with staff, residents, and families,” says Brian Geyeser, vice-president of Clinical Innovation & Population Health for Maplewood, “that we immediately saw the promise and decided to buy into the program. We scaled it up to include our 15 residential facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Everybody loves it!”
Rendever curates content specifically for senior populations and makes it user friendly for both residents and staff. The experience lasts long after the VR headset comes off. “It really inspires conversation,” say Geyser, “Later on or during dinnertime, we hear residents talking about where they went or what they saw that day, or telling their grandkids they took a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.”
Maplewood also encourages family involvement. Through the use of Google Earth, users can travel together virtually to their favorite places anywhere in the world—the Eiffel Tower, a pink sand beach in Bermuda, or even their childhood home. “It sparks memories, and people begin to share stories from their past,” says Geyser.
VR technology has also proven to be a powerful therapeutic tool in assisting memory care residents.
“When an individual has dementia or Alzheimer’s the disease can trigger a lot of emotions and fears at different times of the day,” explains Geyser. “By being proactive, we can redirect them to a pleasant experience that distracts them before they get anxious. For instance, if they raised horses when they were younger, we can say, ‘Why don’t we go to the farm and you can spend time with the horses for a bit?’ It really helps.”
VR is also used by in-house staff for reminiscence therapy, helping memory care residents tap into past recollections. “When you take a virtual trip to revisit the hometown you grew up in or get to see the place where you were married or had your honeymoon, it helps to trigger happy memories and is a key to unlocking them.”
Sometimes the results are nothing short of astounding. The experiences tap into emotions, bring up feelings of joy, and recreated experiences from decades before.
“In one of our communities, we have a Swedish PhD psychologist who is in the middle stages of dementia,” says Geyser. “The technology allowed her to take a virtual trip back to Sweden, back to the campus where she studied. She was delighted. She lit up and started talking about the buildings, her time studying there, and her graduation for 25 minutes. She was thrilled and we were thrilled for her.”
New content and is constantly being added by Rendever, and it isn’t limited just to travel experiences. Currently they are working on an initiative that will allow a family member to “attend” special events in real time, such as a wedding of a grandchild, or a family reunion. There is also a wellness and physical-fitness program in the works that helps to develop core strength and range of motion through participating in fun activities. For example, the user holds a virtual sword in one hand and has to pop balloons coming toward them. The individual has fun while also gaining fitness benefits at the same time.
These immersive experiences are exciting, educational, therapeutic, and joyful. So don’t think VR is just for kids. It’s for all of us.