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Harnessing Virtual Reality to Improve Mental Health and Rehabilitation for Seniors

Imagine stepping into a different world, one where the boundaries of reality blur and your senses are fully immersed. This is the magic of virtual reality, or VR, a technology that transcends age and empowers individuals to transcend their physical limitations. So, how can we harness the power of virtual reality for seniors? While we often associate cutting-edge tech with younger generations, it’s fascinating to discover that older adults are using VR to combat conditions like depression, loneliness, and isolation. But that’s not all – research shows that VR can enhance their morale, engagement, and even cognitive abilities. Join us on a journey into the transformative realm of VR, where age is no barrier to a world of possibilities.

Benefits of VR for Seniors

Virtual reality often uses headsets to simulate different experiences, such as traveling to different countries or immersing the user in activities they may not normally engage in such as parasailing or bungee jumping. According to Rendever, a leading VR company and partner to Maplewood Senior Living, virtual reality is especially beneficial to older adults as it allows them to experience new things without having to leave their home, community or healthcare setting. While VR has a wide range of benefits for seniors, here are a few of the most common among older adults:

Visiting familiar places

Many older adults struggle with normal age-related memory loss while others experience abnormal changes in the brain, which can lead to progressive cognitive decline. Visiting familiar places can help incite positive memories from a person’s childhood or early adulthood. VR can be combined with Google Maps to enhance the visual memories of childhood homes and other notable places. These experiences can help provoke feelings of nostalgia and boost one’s overall mood.

Manage physical pain

VR can be used to ease physical pain during medical appointments or procedures. Just as we may look away from a needle when we’re getting a vaccine, VR can provide a welcomed distraction that reduces the symptoms of pain and alleviates negative feelings.

Help with anxiety and depression

Older adults are at an increased risk of depression, especially if they are living with one or more chronic conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have two or more. Older adults are much more likely to experience depression when chronic conditions or other illnesses are present.  VR simulates alternate environments so closely that the sounds and sights generated by the technology are enough to boost a person’s mood. In fact, research published by the National Library of Medicine suggests that VR has clear potential to alleviate negative feelings while promoting improved cognitive ability and positive emotions in older adults.

Prevents social isolation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-fourth of adults 65 and older have reported feeling socially isolated. Older adults are at an increased risk of isolation and loneliness because they are more likely to experience risk factors such as living alone, losing a family member or developing a chronic illness. When untreated, long-term isolation can cause depression, anxiety, heart disease, and high blood pressure. However, VR technology can help combat this by allowing seniors and their families to explore together, helping bridge the physical distance between them.

Uses of VR for Older Adults

There are so many different ways to reap the benefits of VR in everyday life for older adults. VR can be used by older adults with varying abilities and cognitive skills in a variety of different environments, making it easy to use no matter a person’s situation. According to Rendever, VR can be used independently, in a group setting, in preparation for an upcoming move to a senior living community or to provide support for those experiencing memory-related conditions:

Dementia care  

According to Columbia University, 10 percent of U.S. adults ages 65 and older are living with dementia, while another 22 percent have mild cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, making up 60-80 percent of all cases. Those with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia experience memory impairment, challenges with critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. While there is no cure for dementia, there are ways to manage a person’s symptoms. Most recently, physicians and other support people are beginning to implement the use of VR into care plans for those with dementia. A recent study suggests that short, consistent VR sessions helped participants recall old memories, improve social interaction, and boost overall mood.

Family engagement

For older adults, especially those who live far away from their families, virtual gatherings are a crucial way to stay connected to loved ones. Virtual reality provides a platform for older adults and their families to connect in a reality-simulated environment. According to Rendever, “virtual reality enables residents and their families to gather as avatars and spend time together. Whether it’s taking a virtual trip or simply sitting on a virtual couch and talking about life, VR provides an enjoyable tool for maintaining family relationships.”

Virtual tours

Older adults who are planning a transition into a senior living community may experience a variety of emotions. Using VR to calm nerves and manage expectations is a great way for older adults to prepare for their move. Communities that utilize VR tours are able to offer a realistic experience of community buildings and individual apartments or homes that help make the transition a little easier.

Uses of VR for Stroke Rehabilitation

According to the World Health Organization, 15 million people worldwide suffer from stroke each year. While a stroke can be fatal, many people survive but suffer from long-term consequences. In fact, according to research published by the American Heart Association, 55-75 percent of stroke survivors experience motor deficits, cognitive decline and changes in emotional and behavioral functions. Conventional rehabilitation often includes a combination of physical and occupational therapy. However, more recently individuals have been implementing the use of virtual reality into their overall rehabilitation plans.

When used in a rehabilitation setting for post-stroke individuals, VR uses interactive games designed to provide the individual with real-life scenarios and activities related to daily living. VR creates a safe environment to practice goal-oriented tasks to ensure a safe return to normal life. Repetition and nervous system stimulation following a stroke are crucial, and VR can help maximize this during the rehabilitation process.

Virtual Reality at Maplewood Senior Living

At our Maplewood Senior Living communities, we partner with Rendever to offer virtual reality to our residents in every care setting. From social and family gatherings to utilizing technology during cognitive decline or post-stroke rehab, virtual reality can improve a person’s quality of life in a fun and stimulating way. To learn more about our communities or how we implement VR into everyday life, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.


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1 Gorham Island Rd

Westport, CT 06880


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