Can Virtual Reality Improve Senior Care?

2016 has introduced Virtual Reality (VR) to the mainstream. As the technology continues to advance, and cost to entry becomes less of a factor, I think its safe to say VR will quickly become a part of our lives. In fact, some have suggested that the VR industry could reach $120 billion by 2020.

Skeptical yet intrigued, I wanted to see if VR was all that it’s cracked up to be. I recently stopped into a local Best Buy to test an Oculus demo. Oculus, along with a host of other manufacturers like Samsung and Google are clamoring to this space. My reaction…it was absolutely incredible. Now, let me qualify this statement. I am not a gamer, nor am I a sci-fi junkie. I am just a guy that loves technology and is interested in testing a whole new realm. The demo attendant gave me a few “experience” options to choose from. I chose to scale a mountain face because I am afraid of heights. And yes, I looked like the biggest fool in the store tipped-toeing along a “rock wall” to avoid plummeting 10,000 feet to my death. The experience only lasted a few minutes, but it was something I will never forget.

So, if VR can get a guy over his fear of heights, how might it help senior living operators and their residents?

Here are just a few ideas...

Fun: Are your residents fed up with typical activities? Instead of bingo, wouldn’t they rather go on a safari ride in Africa, ride along the canals of Venice, or walk on Mars? VR is a true escape that often triggers engagement beyond the actual experience. Anyone that has tested VR will tell you the experience immediately triggers social engagement with those around you.

Clinical: Are there practical applications for VR in the clinical space? Dr. Marc Agronin, a Miami-based geriatric psychiatrist, imagines some encouraging scenarios for seniors. He wrote a terrific article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. Dr. Agronin describes how VR reality can enhance sensory, cognitive, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor abilities. It’s a must read if you are looking for other alternatives to augment your dementia program.

Training: Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I am a visual learner” or “it just requires the experience” to learn something new? This is now possible. We are beginning to see a whole new industry segment being created where businesses can offer this as a service. If we can use VR to help increase a surgeon’s rate of success, do you think it would be possible to help improve workflow in your culinary and maintenance departments? I do.

So, what does the future hold? I think it’s a little difficult to predict as VR is really in it’s infancy. However, the scope and scale of VR will only continue to improve. In other words, you will see greater diversity of content and the actual experiences will become far more engaging. So, what does this mean? I think we are only a few years away from a convergence of technologies, like Apple’s FaceTime and Oculus. That’s right, instead of having a video call, you will have the other person sitting right next to you as a 3D hologram. Crazy? Yes, but it won’t be long.

Tell us what you think. Have you experienced VR? If so, what did you make of it? We would love to hear your thoughts and perspective.