How virtual reality will save older people from loneliness

Technology will help the older generation "travel" around the world and communicate with relatives from other cities

Virtual reality has great potential, which is already being realized in various fields for a diverse audience. Despite the fact that today VR is most often found in conjunction with games, the technology helps users not only to feel like fictional characters, but also to visit real places in the world that cannot be reached due to health problems.

Georgina Schuldt, along with her husband, did not like to sit in one place. After retiring, the couple lived on a boat for eight years, traveling from Canada to Panama. After returning home, the couple went camping every summer. A year ago, Georgina's husband passed away, and the 80-year-old woman herself can no longer travel long distances - she moves with the help of a walker. But despite this, Schuldt was still able to visit the European city, albeit in virtual reality. She was helped in this by a company that creates therapeutic VR content for the elderly.

The first time I tried it, I saw cities in Spain. We were right in the town square and there was a tourist right in front of me! I could touch her. I thought it was great ... It takes you out of your own environment and sends you somewhere else. It’s very nice to come back and see what you love, but you can’t come there anymore , ”Schuldt said.

Around the world, sitting in a chair

Virtual reality is one of many technologies that can be used to reduce feelings of loneliness and social isolation in older people. According to research, carried outin 2020 by the national academies of science, engineering and medicine, about a quarter of people aged 65 and over are considered socially isolated. Older people who report feeling lonely are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. They are at risk of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.

According to Dilip Jest, MD and geriatric neuropsychiatric psychologist, the more serious the problem, the more harm it causes to human health. The way out of this situation is precisely technology.

VR companies focusing exclusively on seniors seek to relieve them of the depression of everyday life or find points of contact with family members. At the same time, according to the CEO of MyndVR Chris Brickler, people live in society and are surrounded by others, but they can still further isolate themselves, because of age and problems they lose incentive.

The company's headset and platform streams over 200 virtual travel, entertainment, music and art for seniors living in nursing homes or their own homes. Brickler argues that these experiences can act as memory therapy, helping them recreate parts of their past, or as engagement therapy by connecting them to others in their environment or family. In both cases, something new appears in a person's life that he can share with others.

There is no place like home

Other VR companies are helping seniors keep in touch with their families. For example, AARP Innovation Labs offers users a virtual reality home where seniors can meet, talk to, and even play with relatives.
VR offers a sense of presence and immersion that other technologies do not have. This can allow families to come together without cost, time and mobility , says CEO Cesara Windrem.
So, the platform offers to invite up to four guests in a chalet located in the mountains. The developers have also added the possibility of a joint tour of Paris, a meditation session or a game of checkers and chess. Windrem is confident that virtual reality allows you to find a common language between the older and younger generations, who over the years increasingly distance themselves from each other.
Schuldt agrees with Jest's position. According to her, it was the simplicity of the VR platform that was the main factor in why she liked the virtual experience. After all, this does not require a lot of tricks, but just put on a headset on your head.
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