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Virtual Reality: Not Just for the Young

We usually associate the latest technology with the young, but in the case of virtual reality, the earliest adopters seem to be the elderly. If you think about it, it’s not really a big surprise, especially given that many seniors are dealing with mobility and other health issues that make traveling around very challenging or prohibitive. Given the current state of affairs and the importance of staying safe at home, VR has the extra benefit of being able to transport a person to anywhere in the world and beyond. 
 
“By supplementing their physical handicap with technology, the VR travel experiences can help improve the elderly’s motivation for rehabilitation and improve their quality of life. The VR experience makes them feel like they are out of the nursing home and can help ease their anxiety and loneliness,” said Kenta Toshima, a researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology Inami-Hiyama Laboratory.
 
Another amazing benefit of VR is the ability to experience a new home. We all know from experience and studies reveal how stressful it is to move, especially as we age. And, in many cases seniors may be moving into a new home and have to downsize. This can be very stressful as it is not easy to give up some of the belongings collected over the years. VR can help seniors more easily make decisions about where they may want to live. 
 
Neuroscientists have learned the brain draws from emotions we’ve stored and previous experiences (both positive and negative). If it’s a positive experience, we continue; if it’s negative, we stop.
 
VR may also help people living with dementia. Lora Appel, a researcher with OpenLab at Toronto General Hospital, has been focusing her VR research efforts on seniors with dementia. Some of these patients don't get to go outside much because they like to wander — and that can be dangerous. Her hope is to use VR as a tool to take them outdoors virtually and cut down on the wandering. "I have no doubt this will improve quality of life," she said.
 
Virtual reality also allows us to go to places we have dreamed about and can transport us to different times. Imagine being able to see the pyramids or ride on a rollercoaster from the comfort and safety of your home no matter what condition the person is dealing with. This is another way of fighting social isolation. The feeling of being there may bridge the physical distance of separation from family and friends. 
 
All of these benefits help seniors to stay cognitively stimulated and connected to the world and may help to improve the quality of life for everyone.

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