Virtual Reality isn’t just for gamers. The same technology that lets users battle monsters in mythical worlds has proven useful for everything from overcoming phobias and practicing surgical procedures to getting a look inside the International Space Station.
Now, VR headsets are showing up in senior living and memory care facilities in the United States and abroad, giving elderly people a chance to experience the sights and sounds of distant places, enjoy moments from their past and explore experiences that for reasons of age or poor health are physically inaccessible in real life.
VR might even prove useful as a high-tech version of so-called reminiscence therapy, in which people with memory impairments are encouraged to look at old photos, listen to music or examine once-familiar objects as a way to engage their minds and boost their mood.
Take, for example, a recent pilot study involving a VR platform called MyndVR, which let senior participants try a range of experiences, from touring cities around the world to watching puppies frolic.
Other possibilities included going back to their youth – for example, ducking into a 1950s-era nightclub to take in a performance by a Frank Sinatra lookalike or visiting iconic sites along Route 66.
The study’s findings showed that seniors not only enjoyed using VR but also that some appeared calmer and more alert afterward.
MyndVR is among a handful of companies now developing VR for seniors, including London-based startup called The Wayback, which is now working on creating an online portal that friends and family can use to curate virtual tours for dementia patients.
If VR proves as beneficial to seniors as these companies expect it to be, the tool could be seen as a key part of life in senior centers, significantly changing for the better the way old-timers experience their retirement days.