Although virtual reality technology has been around since the late 1960s, it’s still a technology that most people don’t use on a daily basis. It may even sound futuristic or like it’s reserved for video game enthusiasts. But virtual reality has surprising benefits for a population not commonly associated with using new technology—seniors in assisted living and memory care communities.
Belleview Heights Assisted Living and Memory Care community in Aurora, Colorado, recently launched a virtual reality therapy program for its residents, which uses an Oculus headset to allow them to experience places and events outside of their community.
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, visitation, and activities at many retirement communities have been limited to protect residents and staff. But with the new Oculus headset at Belleview Heights, residents can travel to foreign destinations, visit museums and historical sites, and attend events such as concerts—all from the comfort and safety of their community. Residents can even choose to experience the same event or destination as other residents, giving them a brand-new topic of conversation with their neighbors and staff. This provides a welcome break from the temporary limitations due to virus protection.
How Virtual Reality Can Help Those with Memory Challenges
In a small study led by Dr. Chee Siang (Jim) Ang, a senior lecturer from the University of Kent, researchers found that virtual reality experiences could help people living with memory challenges. As part of the study, Dr. Ang’s team used virtual reality devices on eight participants with a mean age of 69 and living with some type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. Each participant used a virtual reality headset and chose to visit one of five virtual locations via the headset. Their choices were the countryside, a sandy beach, a rocky beach, a cathedral, and a forest.
Each participant was monitored during the 15-minute virtual reality sessions, and Dr. Ang’s team subsequently reviewed feedback from patients and their caregivers. The research team noted that some participants chose the same virtual environment repeatedly, while others explored multiple virtual locations.
The study found that virtual reality may help participants recall old memories by offering new stimuli that they could otherwise not experience while living in their community. Because of the increased recall, caregivers were also able to learn more about the participants’ lives, so it improved their social interaction and relationships.
VR experiences may also improve mood. Dr. Ang’s team reported that “at an art session some weeks later, one of the patients who had taken part commented that it had been 'brilliant'. He appeared to enjoy reminiscing about the experience and was inspired to draw a seaside picture, suggesting that his VR experience had had a positive effect on his mood and motivation to engage with the art session.”
Is Virtual Reality the Future of Memory Care?
As more studies are conducted and more assisted living and memory care communities provide virtual reality experiences for their residents, we hope that the therapeutic benefits of virtual reality for memory care will become clearer. Some experts and caregivers are excited about the possibility of creating custom experiences for residents, including scenes from their childhood, era-specific music, or destinations that individual residents find particularly soothing or enjoyable.
For now, the staff at Belleview Heights is happy to offer Oculus Virtual Reality Therapy for its residents’ enjoyment and quality of life.
To learn more about residency or to schedule a tour of Belleview Heights, contact our friendly team today.