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Five VR offerings for Older Adults and Patients in 2017

What is virtual reality and why should seniors care? Emerging from the gaming world, virtual reality technology and content is beginning to deliver in healthcare and senior settings. The strict definition, "computer technology that delivers an experience through headsets” is terse. But for multiple firms, from CDW Healthcare and Morning Pointe Memory Care to Cedars Sinai Hospital -- these organizations see an opportunity to use the technology in interesting and beneficial ways.

From motivating seniors to exercise to mitigating pain, applications for stroke rehab, to Medical VR events, to enabling hospice patients to ‘visit’ faraway places. So while 2017 may not be the year of its full potential, technology is smaller and cheaper; more content is being created or customized for individuals; applications have been created  for stroke rehab; devices are more easily distributed in senior living communities, so there is great potential. Here are a few examples of many.

Rendever. Started by two MIT students. "Assisted living facility residents, frequently restricted by a lack of mobility, often have to pass on attending their relatives’ distant weddings or traveling the world they had planned to explore later in life. Rendever, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup, is endeavoring to change that. Co-founded by Reed Hayes, Dennis Lally and Tom Neumann, Rendever is a startup that strives to bring virtual technology to older adults. The co-founders explained that they hope to not only give the elderly virtual experiences they might be incapable of having in reality, but also give them a better quality of life." Learn more at Rendever.com.

Firsthand for VR Pain Relief.   Building a bibliography of research, Firsthand offers 'medical grade VR' for "helping patients cope with pain and reduce dependency on addictive drugs. "Many Americans suffer from chronic pain, and the epidemic over prescription and misuse of opioids is daily national news. VR has emerged as an effective approach to help relieve pain with less reliance on drugs. The evidence for VR pain relief with high levels of acute pain in hospital procedures is well established with hundreds of studies. VR for chronic pain relief is the new frontier, and recent studies are showing very promising results."  Learn more at Firsthand Technology.

BettVR With Age. Jake Kahana, a NY filmmaker, has directed 10 films that make up this series. "In one, a pair of violinists play a cozy apartment concert for friends. In another, viewers experience a concert at an LA bar today where patrons and performers are still clad in World War II-era clothing. There's a tour and concert at a Lower East Side museum; a peek into a dance rehearsal; a guided mediation and chorus. Hoping to avoid the motion sickness that can affect VR users, Kahana's shots are mostly from a stationary standpoint, surrounded by movement that isn't too jarring or sudden. They're simple, yet powerful in concept and execution, highlighting elements of a experience many take for granted while creating a sense of intimacy. The technology and films will be donated to DOROT to use for senior programming—and Kahana is already training nursing home staff how to use the headsets on their own." Learn more at BettVR With Age.

One Caring Team’s Aloha VR.  One Caring Team, based in San Carlos, Calif., "is exploring a different kind of therapeutic relief with Aloha VR, a non-invasive program designed to reduce stress and anxiety. Aloha VR can enrich seniors’ lives by surrounding them in an immersive, relaxing environment. Based on GPU technology, Aloha VR can help seniors avoid regular trips to the hospital and expensive medical bills. The more patients engage in their virtual world, the less time they spend experiencing, thinking and worrying about pain." Learn more at One Caring Team.

Google Earth With Street View.  Enabling seniors to view street-level detail of places they grew up or places they would like to visit. "With Google Earth VR, you can go anywhere in virtual reality. Whether you want to stroll along the canals of Venice, stand at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro or soar through the sky faster than a speeding bullet, there’s no shortage of things to do or ways to explore. We love this sense of possibility, so we’re bringing Street View to Earth VR to make it easier for you to see and experience the world." Learn more at Google Earth With Street View



I'm delighted to see this article. For those interested in trying VR, it's important to know these tools vary widely in cost, functionality, and ease of use. Rendever, One Caring Team, and Jake Kahana use inexpensive, lightweight viewing devices (similar to ViewMaster toys) that hold a smartphone, which plays pre-recorded video footage and Google Earth imagery. Users cannot interact with the imagery, although they can turn their head or raise their gaze to see from different perspectives. Lots of free footage, called "360 video," is on YouTube. Firsthand uses sophisticated, interactive headsets and hand-held controllers, connected to a PC, and the user is required to interact with the imagery, custom-produced with 3D computer-generated graphics.

Also important: VR did *NOT* emerge from the gaming world; it emerged from the converging worlds of the military, NASA, telecommunications, and academic research. I have "immersed" hundreds of frail elders, caregivers, and assisted-living execs in VR, and have observed first-hand the potential to provide cognitive stimulation, enhance communication, and simulate a sense of wonder, embodiment and presence. I invite you to check out my blog post (with scientific citations). Thanks for spreading the word about these exciting projects, Laurie.


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