Virtual Reality for Seniors: A New Tool With Impressive Results

virtual reality for seniors
Married senior couple enjoying a lunch together while receiving friendly service

Imagine for a moment how it might feel to struggle with the cognitive complications of Alzheimer’s. The people who are closest to you are now unfamiliar. The words and phrases that would roll off your tongue without an additional thought are now just out of reach. In fact, the whole world as you once knew it has completely turned topsy-turvy, leaving you longing for a recognizable foothold.

However, one of the kindnesses imparted by Alzheimer’s is the long-term memories that often remain intact long after short-term memories have disappeared. It is why connecting older adults with Alzheimer’s to the past is often a remarkably effective way to engage them – through music, photos, movies, and reminiscing. Now we can add a high-tech tool to the possibilities for how we can help seniors mentally connect with the past that’s showing impressive outcomes in seniors with dementia: virtual reality.

Skip Rizzo, director for medical virtual reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, has been using the technology to help veterans dealing with PTSD. He’s now broadening his reach to older adults – beginning with his own 89-year-old mother, whose delightful reaction to a virtual visit to Rome showed just how effective the technology can be for older adults.

Rizzo relays an experience in which he visited a nursing home where a group of residents were simply sitting around a table in silence, until he began showing them flashcard-like pictures of objects they might recognize from their past. The transformation in the atmosphere was electric, as the seniors began sharing memories with each other. With the capacity of low-tech tools such as simple photos to produce joy for older adults, imagine the possibilities available to us now with high-tech options like virtual reality!

The advantage of virtual reality for seniors goes beyond just bringing enjoyment and boosting memory, including:

Improved Medical Care

The distraction of virtual reality is proving to be a highly effective tool for easing pain for seniors. It can also be used to improve motor skills and balance and improve spatial reasoning. It can even help doctors detect health conditions by paying attention to how older adults respond in various activities and games.

Heightened Socialization

We realize that senior isolation is a contributing factor in a number of mental health and physical issues. A recent research study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine revealed that as many as 1 in 4 seniors are feeling socially isolated. To tackle this concern, AARP Innovation Labs has created an app called Alcove, in which seniors and their family and friends can enjoy virtual reality experiences together.

Would you like to learn more creative options to improve quality of life for an older adult you love? Reach out to our aging care team at (213) 383-2273 for more information! At JFS Care, a branch of Jewish Family Services Los Angeles, CA, we strive to provide high quality, reliable, compassionate home care for families in Los Angeles and all of the areas we serve.