The Benefits of Using Virtual Reality in Senior Communities

Imagine looking out over the arid plains of the Sahara Desert or seeing the vibrant colors of Van Gogh’s Starry Night painting come to life. Thanks to the enhanced availability of virtual reality (VR) technology, these are a few experiences Concordia residents and patients at several of our senior care communities have enjoyed during the past year.

With virtual reality apps becoming more common, many people are purchasing virtual reality equipment, like the Oculus Quest, to use at home since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited our travel opportunities. Virtual reality in nursing homes and retirement communities is becoming popular with residents and even offers support with health conditions, which Concordia residents have experienced firsthand.

“Many of our [Concordia at Villa St. Joseph] residents enjoy taking trips under the seas or up in the air while exploring,” Activities Director Chris Gebhart said. “We started using VR at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year on a trial basis from one of our volunteers. He would upload the content for our residents to watch and explore and then we offered him feedback on the uploaded materials related to resident interest – speed of the visual content, colors, variety or even topics and places to explore next.”

Concordia at Villa St. Joseph and Concordia at Cabot are the first Concordia communities to use VR technology with residents. The interactive technology has become a fan favorite among users and also provides cognitive and physical activity in a fun and engaging way. With the variety of VR apps for seniors available, the exploration opportunities are practically endless.

Related: The Benefits of a Senior Living Community: Activities and Programs

Virtual Reality Benefits for Seniors

Although formal therapeutic benefits of virtual reality for seniors have yet to be established, VR programs like the Oculus Quest can help mitigate the effects that coincide with Alzheimer’s and dementia, offering a calming escape that alleviates agitation and anxiety. According to a 2017 study conducted through The University of Texas at Dallas, individuals who used the technology noted an increase in overall well-being and feelings of relaxation. Residents who have a memory impairment might benefit from an immersive experience listening to music on the Oculus or taking a trip to a familiar place. For residents who have physical limitations, the freedom of flying over the Grand Canyon, walking along a coastal shore or engaging with different physical sensations through the technology can have a profound impact.

Brandy Muth, Skilled Nursing Activities Director at Concordia at Cabot, began using Oculus Quest as part of the activities program this past year.

“It’s really amazing, and the residents love it,” she said. “We have some residents who prefer to take trips to tropical places, some residents enjoy the sensation of different activities – like flying – and some residents even want to take a trip to their family home! It gives them an opportunity to engage with the world in a way they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

We hope to expand the technology for resident use at all of our senior care communities soon, but for now, you can follow along with our residents’ adventures on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Have you had an experience with virtual reality or have a suggestion on where our residents should visit next? Let us know in the comments below. For more information on Concordia’s retirement communities and healthcare services in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and Tampa, Florida call our headquarters at 724-352-1571 or visit the locations page of our website.

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