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Virtual Answer to Real Aging

The very future of elderly care is changing. Residential homes are having to adapt to the needs of their clients today, but with one eye very much on the future. What is around the corner when it comes to looking after an aging population?

 

MODERN ANSWERS

You may think that virtual reality is a young person’s game. Strapping on a headset and being taken on a world of adventure seems ever so modern, but actually in care homes today they are becoming increasingly popular.

There are some who believe the future of care for the elderly, and the way that residents in care homes will be entertained, treated and assisted may well rest on the use of virtual reality (VR).

Technology and the elderly may not always seem like obvious bed fellows. However, there has been a tipping point in recent years and the take up of mobile phones and tablets has grown massively within the senior population. Something that is mirrored in countries such as the US, UK and around Europe.

Although seniors online may generally lag behind their younger counterparts, users aged 65 and older said that owning a smartphone offers “a liberating experience”, and this is something which is only set to grow.

 

SHAKING SENIOR CARE

So, it seems that senior care is set for a shake up as virtual reality offers plenty of possibilities for exploration, improvement and all manner of new thinking when it comes to dealing with the elderly.

The fact that elderly people may be starting to use smartphones means there is far less of a leap to using VR headsets. They can either be connected directly to the wearable or wirelessly to render virtual reality images.

So, are seniors ready to adopt VR and what are the benefits that it can bring?

Senior Relaxation: Being in a care home can be a challenging experience, especially when elderly people enter the residential system after the loss of a loved one, or after a health scare. So, VR can play a powerful part in soothing and relaxing people.

In reality, a patient or resident may only be sitting on the sofa of an assisted-living facility, but suddenly in their head they are off into the virtual world, sat on a sun kissed beach, perhaps, looking out at the sunset and surrounded by the calming sea.

Such VR programmes which can assist people to relax by offering calming environments for those who can’t get out much. It’s a great alternative to watching television. The immersive world offers an escape to forget pain, anxiety, or even isolation.

Senior Health Benefits: VR is also a great solution to prevent Dementia. One in nine people aged 65 and older in the USA have Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to Dementia. VR is a valuable potential tool which helps manage chronic pain, anxiety and depression, which are three common symptoms of Dementia patients.

Dementia patients often feel lost, because they feel that they don’t belong anywhere. By presenting them with a beautiful and peaceful view of the beach, this can often ground them and provide relaxation.

VR For Senior Social Connections: Although residents do often have friends in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, some seniors struggle to connect with other people even those within their age bracket. Social isolation and loneliness are real and serious health risks to the elderly.

As a solution, experiments are using VR platforms to overcome and soothe issues such as isolation for seniors. Whether it is because of fear, a sense of vulnerability or even depression, elderly people do often prefer to simply close themselves off. VR can provide a sense of opening the world up once more.

In the virtual world, older people are even able to shake off their aging, aching bones and take on new personas. Often the platforms being used allow residents to meet other participants using an avatar, so they can communicate with them and even go on adventures. The use of avatars helps the elderly to introduce themselves in a network society easily, it breaks down the stress of meeting others and removes the fears of having to physically negotiate steps, climbs or the various problems the real world can throw at us.

VR For Senior Exercising: Virtual reality doesn’t only offer brain exercise, but can also help the elderly become motivated to exercise. Research from Aalborg University in Denmark revealed that the technology can inspire seniors in nursing homes to exercise.

Sadly, even with full access to fitness facilities and physical therapists, many of senior residents in care homes do not exercise as it causes them pain. This is understandable, and is yet another side effect of the aging process.

However, by making exercising for seniors a digital experience, by placing large TV screens in front of exercise bikes, for instance. Suddenly the whole process changes – the emphasis becomes enjoyment and distraction, rather than just something which has to be done. With such systems, as the residents pedal, they get to view various virtual landscapes while the speed is determined by their output on the bikes that are linked to the screens.

According to results of such schemes, fitness levels are improved and the elderly care home residents who have tested the programme report feeling physically and mentally better. In fact, the tests have been such a success that many of the residents as well as their relatives have asked for the technology to become a permanent fixture in the care homes.

Virtual reality and other new technologies are offering efficient ways for seniors and the elderly to stay in shape both physically and mentally. Which is fantastic, and the future will undoubtedly see a rise in technological answers to the problems of old age. However, nothing can (or should) replace human interaction. Seniors still need to be comfortable in the environment they are living in, they need stimulating conversation and enjoyment. Whether virtual or actual, reality needs to be a good, safe and happy space.

What do you think? Will the lives of senior care home residents be made better with virtual reality? Or will that mean less personal attention and care? Let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you.