How virtual reality is ready to help seniors

Kyle Rand

Kyle Rand, CEO, Rendever

Virtual reality is becoming a versatile tool and has a significant impact in elderly care organizations. From helping residents forge valuable relationships and connection to assisting with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke recovery, VR technology supports seniors in several ways.

Facilitating Connections and Social Engagement

When Kyle Rand founded Rendever six years ago, he did it with the goal of addressing the social isolation that is so common in senior care. “Rendever is built on the premise that the foundation of all human connections are positive shared experiences,” he says.

“During the aging process, your world shrinks a little bit with each step as you get older. If you don’t have the right opportunities or technologies, it’s very easy to get isolated.” Seniors are gradually losing access to travel options and to the world as a whole. “Virtual reality allows you to re-enter and re-experience that world,” says Rand. “With a virtual reality headset, you can be anywhere and do anything.”

Rand uses VR to tackle that problem social abstinence† Using VR headsets and programming, seniors can participate in shared experiences. Those experiences include options such as animal therapy, music therapy, travel experiences, and opportunities to relive certain decades. Built with a focus on active engagement, the platform provides residents with the opportunity to interact and forge connections that would otherwise be difficult to establish in a senior care environment.

That VR technology also promotes physical engagement and mobility† Immersive experiences encourage residents, even those who are wheelchair-bound, to turn their heads, use their arms and look around. Physical therapists have been able to use the programming to enhance and guide physical therapy sessions. “It involves cognitive elements and exercise,” Rand says.

The technology has also helped to maintain connections between residents and family members living at a distance. Both residents and family members can enjoy a VR experience together and then gather in a VR family room to discuss and discuss the experience. They have the opportunity to share stories and nurture that important relationship and connection, even when they can’t be together in person.

Senior housing organizations use VR technology in many ways. Some have included Rendever’s live programming, in which the daily sessions are led by a Rendever employee, as an important part of their own programming. These live sessions provide engagement and entertainment opportunities for residents, but are also extremely valuable because they do not elderly care staff member of the organization are available to lead the session. This is an example of how VR technology can help complement programming, even as organizations experience it staffing challenges and limited staff hours.

Senior Rehabilitation Support

David Ellzey

David Ellzey, CEO, Torque3

The Torque3 platform is a neurorehabilitation tool that supports the recovery of TBI and stroke survivors. Torque3 CEO David Ellzey explains that while the technology was originally intended as a fitness solution, its value as a neurorehabilitation tool was quickly discovered. “Our approach is designed to maximize the brain’s neuroplastic reallocation to restore lost functionality after a stroke or TBI,” he says.

To achieve that goal, patients perform task-oriented therapy in an immersive environment. “We have to immerse them so deeply that they suspend their disbelief, which allows us to introduce the perception of risk,” he says. “This illusion that they are on a certain level, risk adds urgency and importance to all tasks performed during therapy. A virtual environment also allows us to keep the tasks constantly new and challenging and even add meaningful rewards.”

Patients use a VR headset and a simulated pedal-powered vehicle to complete tasks and achieve that deep immersion. “When you add it to a motion simulation base that mimics g-forces and ground bumps, combined with advanced robotics to produce incredibly realistic feedback in the pedals and steering, and then finally a wind simulation system with a mixed fragrance dispenser, you get an amazingly immersive experience” , says Ellzey. Patients can tour natural areas and trails and immerse themselves in different environments while pedaling.

Torque3 is testing a program called the Alpha Lab, which is designed for participants who want to regain their independence. Scheduled to open in the summer of 2022 in Centerville, Utah, the platform could transform the process of stroke rehabilitation.

The future of virtual reality for seniors

Virtual reality offers exciting opportunities for seniors and for senior care. As VR technology and its applications continue to evolve, we will likely see more use cases like the ones highlighted above. Within a few years, VR is likely to be an integral part of most senior care organizations and the technology could become an integral part of memory units and rehabilitation programs.

VR is just one more tool that aged care organizations need to ensure high-quality, comprehensive care for all of their residents. “We’re creating a future where it doesn’t matter where you are physically,” says Rand. “Virtual reality allows you to be part of a community and age alongside your new friends and the connections you’ve built throughout your life.”

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