How virtual reality can help seniors

Social isolation, depression, pain… Faced with all these problems, several companies see virtual reality as the solution to alleviate them and make it available to the elderly in various establishments.

Contrary to what one might think, technology and seniors can go hand in hand. Although their uses are more associated with young people, they also have their place with the elderly. The virtual reality (VR) is one of those technologies whose use can be beneficial to this part of the population. Several companies in France and across the Atlantic are betting on it to help seniors and deploy it in retirement homes, nursing homes or even autonomy residences.

Several studies have shown that VR can be used to reduce disorders such as anxiety and depression. Next to that, startups claim that it helps to encourage social ties among the elderly and therefore to fight against isolation. Virtual reality is thus seen as a tool with social and therapeutic aims.

Virtual reality, a tool to fight social isolation

With the aim of promoting social ties among seniors, companies offer them group virtual reality sessions. These immersions have the advantage of encouraging participants to dialogue afterwards with content around different themes such as nature, culture and travel. The French company FeelU, for example, has developed experiences allowing elderly people to visit places and immerse themselves in sensations, with the possibility of virtually paragliding or diving with manta rays. “At FeelU, we are used to saying “7 minutes of travel, 1h30 of discussion”, with the person who will be immersed in a setting that they know, that they have known or that they are going to discover and that will immediately bring back positive memories. It will encourage her to share her experience and the memories that came back to her as soon as she takes off the helmet.explains David Verrière, technical director of the company.

Not only do these firms offer seniors the opportunity to experience these immersions together, but they can also share them with members of their family. “Whether in nursing homes or in independent residences, there are often visits and the activity teams use FeelU to make shared trips, with the grandson who, for example, is going to go paragliding at the same time as his grandfather and they will be able to discuss what they are seeing », says David Verrière. This also helps to promote social ties with discussions during the session and after.

All this is achievable without the need for seniors to learn who just have to put the VR headset on their head. Wishing to simplify the use of VR for the elderly, companies rely on facilitators whom they train to pilot the sessions using a tablet on which they can see what the residents see.

An alternative to medication for disorders and pain

While several studies have shown that virtual reality can be useful for conditions such as anxiety and depression, companies using this technology to help the elderly are also conducting their own experiments to verify the capabilities of their tools. . FeelU has worked with psychologists to see if the content it offers helps reduce anxiety and depression. “They showed that at the rate of one session per week, people who traveled virtually with helmets were less depressed, less anxious than people who did not”says the company’s technical director, adding that promoting social ties also leads to a reduction in these disorders.

Like other companies specializing in this field, FeelU provides content focused on relaxation in order to fight against these diseases. This category of immersions includes meditation to help residents and caregivers manage their stress. Among these experiences are guided sophrology programs with which they can choose the environment where they want to meditate, the duration, but also to integrate a little background music or not.

Virtual reality can thus make it possible to slightly reduce the taking of medications such as antidepressants. This is also the case for pain. In the USA, the company AppliedVR has developed an immersive system capable of reducing pain in patients over 18 years of age with chronic low back pain with cognitive behavioral therapy. Treating back pain through relaxation and distraction, this system can be marketed in the country since it obtained authorization from the American drug agency (FDA) last November. In France, specialist companies are also looking to use VR as an alternative to pain medication. “Caregivers use FeelU to divert attention during painful care, especially for pressure ulcer dressing changes. They remove the painkillers and do a session with the helmet to change the dressing without the person having pain even though they have not taken any medication”, explains David Verrière. According to the technical director, this method works like hypnosis to reduce drug intake.

Use with risks

Although virtual reality is beneficial to the elderly for several reasons, there is another aspect to take into account: the side effects of this technology such as nausea, dizziness or fatigue. This does not only concern seniors, with people considered sensitive (pregnant women, individuals with motion sickness, etc.) likely to suffer from these adverse effects from the first minutes of use. Companies are aware of these health impacts and seek to prevent them with the content they develop: “In the early years, virtual reality had bad press, it was said to make you sick, but most of the experiences offered were often roller coasters or things that really moved all over the place and weren’t very pleasant”says David Verrière.

The technical director of FeelU even specifies that the first contents of the company made the elderly a little sick, but that she now knows where to position the camera or even what to film to avoid the appearance of dizziness in her users. He explains, however, that one in ten people do not support VR headsets in general because they get seasick or car sickness, making the experience unpleasant for them.

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How virtual reality can help seniors

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