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Virtual reality is improving seniors' lives and relationships, research shows

CBS News Philadelphia

Stephanie Stahl


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A little virtual reality is having positive effects in the real lives of older Americans, research shows. 

As part of a Stanford University study, members of 17 senior communities around the country spent short bursts of time in virtual reality. 

"It brought back memories of my travels," Terry Colli said. "It brought back memories of my experience growing up on a farm."

Nearly 80% of participants felt more positive, 83% said it benefited their relationship with caregivers, and about 60% said they felt less isolated.

"You can be with a bunch of animals, you could be in Paris, you can be in a crowded orchestra," Professor Jeremy Bailenson, a co-author on the study, said. 

"What we've found is that magic of the experience [of] VR — how happy it makes people, just the novelty of the experiences — it improves people's mood. It gives them something to talk about," he said.

The study also showed that compared to other technologies like cellphones, seniors preferred virtual reality as a more natural medium.

"It stimulated virtually every area of my brain. All the senses," participant Anne Selby said.

One thing it's not meant to do is replace human interaction, researchers said.

"We still need to think about the challenges of loneliness and we still need to focus on interacting with our families," Bailenson said. "What VR does is it just gives you a spark, gives you something special to be excited about."

Researchers are also investigating how the technology can be used for balance training, and virtual reality is already being used to help patients in physical therapy.

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