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Virtual Reality Comes of Age

UCLA Health - Healthy Years Magazine

Jonathan Wanagat, MD, PhD


Companies are turning their attention to developing simplified devices and relevant programming for older adults.

Virtual reality (VR) and video gaming are typically associated with young people racing fast cars and slaying zombies. But some researchers and businesses have turned their attention to developing VR exclusively for older adults. From exotic armchair traveling to opera performances to physical therapy, VR’s expansion into the senior market is multidimensional and growing. “Virtual reality has a lot of promise, it reduces many barriers and provides immersive and rich environments that can provide pleasure and stimulate the brain,” says psychologist Alan Castel, PhD, author of Better with Age.

“Ideally, new VR regimens will incorporate components of balance maintenance and physical exercise to enhance brain health.”

These developments and many more are underway and, in some cases, have already hit the market with success. For example, MyndVR ( headsets look and wear just like glasses and were developed by HTC (makers of premium VR glasses); they only weigh about 7 ounces. The curated VR library contains age-appropriate content with motion, pacing, and font sizes appropriate for older adults (no zombies or violent crime games). MyndVR CEO and co-founder Chris Brickler says he’s most proud of how VR can enhance the lives of older adults, including those with dementia.

“I met a couple in a residential care community who were married 50 years. The husband was in good health, but the wife had dementia,” Brickler shares. “She no longer remembered his name and was withdrawn. For their honeymoon they went to Paris and through virtual reality we transported her there again. In a short time, she was animated and speaking. She even remembered her husband’s name after that VR session.” VR can and is being used for entertainment, exercise, rehab, and as an escape from daily life for those who may be bedbound. For example, in some locations VITAS (a palliative care and hospice provider) incorporates VR as a palliative tool to ease patients’ pain and other symptoms by immersing them in calming virtual environments.

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