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Virtual Reality to Combat Loneliness in the Elderly


As demographics change in developed countries, a plethora of research is being done to better understand aging. The majority of research looks at how we can slow or (at least) improve the mental and physiological conditions of this inevitable process. Virtual reality is an exciting opportunity for older adults to escape their physical and mental limitations.

 

The physiological consequences of aging negatively affect our speed, accuracy, strength, stability, and coordination. The extent to which this occurs, why it varies between individuals, and exactly what parts of the brain or body change are not well known. In both motor and cognitive tasks, older adults become increasingly worse off than younger individuals. It is thought that this decline limits their social interactions, which can result in feelings of loneliness.

In today’s increasingly technology based, fast-changing social environment, this loneliness is more pronounced than ever before. Elderly people today hardly grew up with television and technology has advanced at an extremely fast pace over their lifetime, so it’s no wonder they’re reluctant to engage in new methods of digital communication.

Encouraging and welcoming an aging population to participate in modern technology is critical for reducing loneliness. Researchers have caught onto this, and have already found that teaching computer classes to the elderly decreases loneliness and has a positive impact on mental well-being. These classes focus on engaging online, and with evolving technologies, the exclusion of older adults due to physiological limitations may be avoided entirely.

Antunes and colleagues intend to investigate the added benefit of virtual reality to elderly students in computer classes. This is an accessible, augmented reality, that could give older adults an amazing escape from the natural deterioration of their physical state. Another benefit is the understanding of aging-related changes we will gain through their varied game offerings. Virtual reality is progressing at an impressive rate, and has the potential to allow anyone to experience just about anything.

The role that virtual reality could play is an exciting avenue to help slow aging and eliminate loneliness. This will be an important area to improve the lives of aging populations, and could alleviate some of the anticipated burdens of aging on the health care system.

 

Written By: Soleil Grisé, HBSc

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