By Anthony Richards
Ponte Vedra Gardens Alzheimer’s Special Care Center is always looking for ways to further open the flow of communication with their residents and they are now using virtual reality to do this.
Thanks to a partnership with Viva Vita: Live Life, an organization that specializes in delivering virtual reality to senior communities across the country, they’ve been implementing the program over the past six months.
Since it started, Jennifer McCormick, program director of Ponte Vedra Gardens, has seen a difference in people’s response to it.
“It’s definitely the way of the future,” McCormick said. “Especially during COVID, we started to find ways to help seniors feel more connected.”
According to McCormick, everyone in the facility has some dimension, but they can all participate in the virtual reality exercises if they wish.
The program offers many different types of trips to different locations around the world. Destinations, such as travel to Cairo, Paris and Ireland, and locations in the US
Not only these and many other journeys are available, but new virtual realities are added to the roster every month.
“We can specialize the experience based on what the resident’s specific personality is and cater to their interests,” McCormick said. “We even have trips to the Louvre and the Mona Lisa for those interested in art.”
McCormick has seen that virtual reality tends to give residents the opportunity to connect with people around them who may not have existed before.
She attributes this to the conversation channels it opens up, like perhaps evoking a memory of a time when they visited the place they had just seen in virtual reality, and it makes them want to talk about it.
“With dementia, it can be difficult for them to express thoughts, but this gives them an outlet,” McCormick said. “We’ve had a lot of success with men. They seem to really enjoy it.”
When it comes down to it, virtual reality is just so fascinating to so many people, even to the point where the staff want to participate in it and they are allowed to, because it can share the experience further.
The facility only has two headsets, each of which has a screen that goes over the user’s eyes. Having it in the form of a headset makes the process much more portable than if it were plugged into a larger monitor.
“It’s so nice because I can bring it straight to their room and they can enjoy it,” McCormick said. “That is much more convenient.”
Each virtual reality session lasts approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
However, due to the increasing interest in the program, McCormick says there are plans to get more accessories in the future, including an additional headset and the ability to add a large screen where the virtual reality projections the user sees also. can be viewed by those without headphones.
“I’ve been here for six years and they introduced something similar years ago, but it didn’t have many options,” McCormick said. “I think it will only grow. It’s just the beginning.”