How Virtual Reality Benefits Seniors

Shattering assumptions to meet unique needs

Aditi Khazanchi
Oct 9, 2018 · 4 min read
A customer using a mixed reality headset to help improve her cognitive and memory functions.

You might not associate video games with the elderly population, but gaming is becoming increasingly popular with this growing demographic. There’s even a national Wii bowling tournament. Wii bowling appeals to older customers with its nostalgia and ease of use compared to real-world bowling.

But games can be serious business, too. Virtual reality (VR) games designed for rehabilitation can help improve abilities such as memory, cognition, attention, mental flexibility, and speed. These experiences can even combine cognitive improvement with physical exercise. Considering the growth of the elderly population and advancements in research, VR applications and games have the potential to be more than just entertainment targeted toward younger audiences.

Ties between physical and mental health during aging

Left: A simulation of the effects of macular degeneration; Right: A simluation of the clarity our customer experienced through VR.

The senior population often yearn for interaction and mental stimulation. They are eager to learn, explore and interact. While passive experiences provide emotional stimulation, they lack interaction.

See firsthand how excited our customer was to interact with the new VR world.

This need for stimulation is likely a result of the physical and cognitive decline that comes with aging. As you age, your eyes receive only a third of the light younger eyes receive. Differentiating between colors becomes harder. Decline in hearing makes daily conversations difficult, causing a feeling of isolation. As these challenges intensify, they often bring depression, anxiety and a general decline in mental well-being.

Virtual reality, tangible benefits

1. Early detection of cognitive impairment

Sea Hero Quest is one such game that gathers data to research dementia through VR gaming.

2. Physical and cognitive training

3. Reminiscence therapy

This is where VR comes in: it helps make the experience real, facilitating the feeling of “being there.” It triggers therapeutic memories more effectively than an old photograph by providing highly immersive nostalgic experiences.

4. Distraction from pain

Challenges and opportunities

Traditional VR controllers are also not ideal for audiences with declining motor control. During my research, I tested the Xbox adaptive controller with elderly players. While the adaptive controller is currently not a fully compatible input for VR experiences for the elderly, it is definitely better received than any traditional controllers in the market. It has the potential to help make VR experiences more accessible and inclusive for the elderly.

Our customer explains how the adaptive controller is easier for her to use.

What’s next?

What other ways could we use VR with the elderly population? Let us know in the comments below.

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