VR is Virtually Saving Lives


Senior citizens aren’t exactly the first demographic that comes to mind when imagining the market of virtual reality headsets, but these machines can do more than just entertain. Fully immersing users in a panoramic experience of their choosing, VR has proven to be medically beneficial in nursing homes.

A UK news article explains some of the benefits of using this advanced technology in Embrace’s Dovecote nursing home in northern England:

“…by using the headsets, it has decreased anxiety in some residents along with being able to relax residents. The headsets are also used as a scenery change to those residents who are unable to go out due to illness.”

Activities coordinator at the home, Chelsey Jackson, stated that the technology has also helped engage residents who are less social – who don’t enjoy group activities and choose to spend time alone. Virtual reality headsets are a simple remedy that increase dopamine and stimulate less active brains, especially when residents are immobile.

Reports from the same article show an extremely positive response from elderly users. Lindsay Donoghue-Flockhart, manager at Garden Hill Home in England said, “Even our residents who are unaccustomed with using modern technology have found it very accessible and easy to use.”

She continued to describe that overall morale in the home increased after VR sessions. She explained that residents would talk to each other about their experience and continue to discuss “for hours afterwards about the technological aspects of the session,  wondering how it was done. It was lovely to see them smile about the ‘good old days’.”

Medical experimentation with VR has reached the US. Sonya Kim, a physician in San Francisco, has implemented VR headsets into her therapy sessions for patients with dementia. Bringing beautiful scenery to seniors goes beyond boosting moods and counteracting depression. A

An article by The Washington Post cites Kim’s theory:

“I think VR allows patients’ neural pathways to be reactivated — some have dormant pathways — because of the power of presence, of having something right in front of them without any distraction.”

As if pure entertainment and providing happiness to seniors wasn’t enough of a reason to bring headsets to nursing homes, there may be evidence of neural reactivation. While it’s too early to determine if there’s any concrete data of actual improvement of neurological function, the technology provides too many benefits not to try it.

Using VR to transport seniors can also help get them to exercise. The change in scenery can inspire a need to do something. Aalborg University in Denmark conducted a study that “showed that seniors were really happy with the experience.” Through the panoramic display on-screen, physical therapist Jon Ram Bruun-Pedersen reports that “they really lived it and felt as if they had to pedal extra hard to get up the hill on the screen — even though they really didn’t feel higher resistance on the bike.” There is evidence that can be applied globally of an overall increased quality of life with virtual reality.

There’s speculation of whether or not these positive effects of VR will help expand the technology beyond medicine into the consumer world. It seems that the same technology that has been beneficial to medicine can be a door to a new realm of entertainment.

Time will tell.

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