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Discover 5 Ways Virtual Reality is Enhancing Seniors’ Well-Being

June 27 2021
A woman playing with a virtual reality set.

Virtual reality (VR), a computer-generated simulation that can transport you to another time and place, is often thought of as entertainment. It’s not surprising considering how common it is in today’s video games. The technology, however, has also proven to have more serious applications in industries such as education, business, and healthcare. VR is showing much promise in improving the health and wellness of seniors. At The Watermark at Brooklyn Heights, you can experience EngageVR, which immerses you in a host of exciting digital experiences. Here are just some of the benefits VR can provide.

Improve memory and cognitive skills

Our cognitive abilities generally pertain to how well we think, learn, and remember. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to boost our cognitive function, and VR is proving to be one of them. In a recent study, VR was shown to help those with advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s recall old memories. By exposing them to various calming virtual locations—the countryside, a sandy beach, a rocky beach, a cathedral, and a forest—it provided new stimuli that they couldn’t otherwise access due to illness or limited mobility and helped stimulate their brains. In other studies, it was found that an aging brain can best maintain cognitive functions by activating the brain network (frontal, temporal, and parietal regions). VR is helpful in that it provides immediate feedback and stimulates cognitive and motor areas of the brain. Research has also shown how it can lead to better focus and memory retention.

Boost overall physical health

While VR has been shown to be good for the brain, it’s also good for the body. Studies show that by incorporating VR exercise, seniors experience improved physical outcomes, such as improved motor ability, better balance, and reduced obesity. It has even been observed to be an effective intervention strategy for preventing falls. Immersive VR, which incorporates the use of a VR headset, is becoming a common tool in rehabilitation physical therapy thanks to the positive results it’s producing.

Reduce anxiety and depression

According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, 10 to 20 percent of American seniors experience some form of clinical anxiety. Limited mobility can also lead to depression as can loneliness and more. Fortunately, VR has been proven to lessen both anxiety and depression. In fact, it can even be used to manage pain. Research reveals that VR can help change symptom-related thoughts, diminish beliefs that worsen symptoms, and increase personal perceptions of control over symptoms. The fact that VR can instantly transport you to a beautiful and tranquil setting in nature can be just the change of scenery needed to elevate your mood.

Improve social interactions

In Japan, Kenta Toshima, a researcher, stumbled upon the idea of incorporating VR technology in senior living communities while working in a nursing care facility in Tokyo. A patient there mentioned wanting to visit her favorite plum orchard. As a result, Toshima visited the orchard and took several photos to share with her. She was so thrilled, she requested he take even more, showcasing the orchard from different angles. This gave Toshima the idea to use a 360-degree camera to take photos and videos that could then be shared through a VR headset.

Finding that many seniors wanted to travel but didn’t always have the option, he began visiting their hometowns and other destinations that held special memories for them. There, he’d capture the experience with his camera and bring it back for them to enjoy. What he discovered was that VR can help counteract feelings of loneliness and improve social interactions.

Like going out into the world, VR produces a similar response. In some situations, residents can also use VR together, which can create a shared experience that serves as an opportunity to bond with others.

Expand Your Horizons

Perhaps, the most positive aspect to come from VR is its ability to share new experiences that might otherwise be unattainable for some. For example, visiting Notre Dame in Paris, taking a hot-air balloon ride over the Serengeti, exploring the wreck of the Titanic, or watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. With virtual reality, you can immerse yourself in the world and experience things you only before imagined. It’s the ultimate freedom.


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