VR headsets offer seniors an immersive escape from care home life – World

Virtual reality technology is now being used to enrich the lives of the elderly. Retirement homes are experimenting with VR headsets, which can free immobilized people from their daily indoor constraints and provide a range of therapeutic benefits.

Some residents of a care home in Devon, England, can explore the tropical underwater seas and visit zoos and other attractions, all without leaving their armchairs.

The applications of VR are not just limited to gaming and visual experiences. Headset applications also create opportunities for seniors to socialize, play and communicate with fellow residents, friends and family outside the nursing home. Loneliness is one of the biggest factors that increases the risk of disease in the elderly. Some scientists estimate that this is equivalent to the health risks of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Some VR applications are incredibly useful for families of elderly people. These VR experiences can show family members what it is like to live with certain disabilities, and often provide an eye-opening experience for family members simulating daily tasks within the VR application. This can serve as a catalyst for meaningful conversations within families, promoting empathy and understanding.

For some, especially those in palliative care, temporarily escaping reality is an attractive option. VR headsets can teleport people with limited mobility to beautiful sights around the world: vast mountain ranges, tropical beaches or bustling metropolises. Given the imaginative nature of VR, time travel is also possible, allowing users to witness key historical moments or enter fantasy realms.

Some VR applications can help the elderly reminisce about their past. These applications allow users to virtually walk roads, cities and landscapes that look just as they did decades ago. This nostalgic experience can not only improve general well-being, but also be invaluable in treating dementia patients by unlocking memories.

In a similar vein, learning can become more challenging with age, despite the cognitive benefits it provides. VR allows users to learn new skills hands-on, providing an easier method of retaining information from a first-person perspective. By gamifying learning and turning it into a visual process, VR can help older residents learn new subjects, skills and languages, providing a constructive and active pastime.

Real life is not divided into categories such as lessons, experiences, or therapy, but instead consists of a mix of overlapping events and sensations that add to the complexity of our daily experiences. As VR technology evolves, applications are expected to provide multiple functionalities within broader, more immersive experiences. For example, a virtual trip to Paris could allow users to wander the streets of the city, admire its wonders and at the same time practice French with virtual locals within the application.

It is important to note that VR is not a substitute for real-world experiences and connections. While it can enhance and support social interactions, it is critical for seniors to engage in physical activities with others to maintain their health and fitness – areas where VR contributes minimally.

However, VR is making progress in this domain with the development of fitness-based applications that are gamified and tailored for older adults.

The coming years are expected to see notable improvements in VR technology, with its applications continuing to expand throughout society. This means that VR applications specifically designed for the elderly will undoubtedly become more realistic and immersive. It’s difficult to imagine the full potential of these experiences decades from now, especially with predictions that integration with the brain could also enable sensations of touch and movement.

Currently, providing realistic haptic feedback remains a major challenge for VR technology. However, some experts suggest that within 20 years, wearable suits will be available that can simulate the sensations of different materials – from wood to water and even human touch. Despite the potential ethical implications of this VR revolution, one thing is clear: the seniors of the future are unlikely to be bored for long.