How virtual reality can help seniors live happier, healthier lives

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In her article, Kara Platoni explores if virtual reality can help seniors’ mental as well as physical health. In the United States, the elderly, especially those who live alone or in care facilities, often feel alienated and suffer from chronic pain, depression or anxiety, according to Dr. Sonya Kim. With her Aloha VR program, Kim is bringing virtual reality technology to a population that is often ignored by the tech industry. According Kim, who previously worked as an emergency room doctor, VR is an alternative to other activities like watching TV and is a way for people who lack mobility to explore the world.



Virginia Anderlini (right) tries out Dr. Sonya Kim’s virtual reality program. Photo: Kara Platoni/KQED

In addition, seniors are regularly hospitalized because of preventable conditions that are often brought about by loneliness and limited self-care. This is particularly a problem for patients with dementia. “There are over 100 clinical research papers that are already published that show proven positive clinical outcomes using VR in managing chronic pain, anxiety and depression,” said Kim. “And in dementia patients, all those three elements are very common.” Conversely, there are persisting challenges including the high cost of VR headsets and the wide range of mobility that is required to fully move around and interact in a VR scene. Still, the simple, experiential nature of many VR environments, be it a beach at sunset or a rainforest, make them accessible, and enjoyable, to a wide range of ages.

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