Think of Virtual Reality, and one might think of bulky headsets loaded with the latest gaming technology or virtual reality environments developed for high-tech aviation, engineering, and medical training. But now medical professionals and the care sector are realising the benefits that can be gained by the older people through using VR as part of a therapeutic activity programme, and how it can be used by carers training in dementia care.

It’s not the first time technology associated with video console gaming has been adopted by the care sector. Since 2006, the Nintendo Wii, with its fitness board and motion control sensors, has been incorporated into physiotherapy programmes to improve coordination and balance and has been enjoyed by care home residents as a social activity, playing its sports games such as bowling and tennis. However, virtual reality offers a different kind of experience and is proving to be just as therapeutic as group-based activities but in a more personal and emotional way.

A Personal Experience

The VR headset tracks head movements, allowing the wearer to explore a 360-degree representation of an environment just by looking around. The view experienced by the headset wearer is also displayed on a tablet, so carers and family can share and chat about the content, which might include places familiar to the clients or parts of the world they’ve never encountered before. With virtual reality providers increasing their libraries of content, carers can tailor the experiences to their clients’ requirements. Clients can choose from periods of their lives and places they know to remember them as they were or see them as they are now. Carers have remarked how the immersive reminiscence sessions have been particularly beneficial for those who have difficulties communicating, don’t like group activities or are unable to go outside.

virtual reality headset senior care

A New Perspective for Carers

For carers, the VR experience helps them bond with clients more closely, increasing the quality of one-on-one interaction by provoking in-depth conversations that continue long beyond the end of the session. It’s been known to uncover interests the client has that carers might not previously have been aware of, which can help enrich other activities.

On a professional level, the technology is now being developed and used to help and enhance carer training and understanding in dementia care. Alzheimer’s Research UK has developed a VR app to help carers ‘experience’ the symptoms of dementia by presenting everyday situations through the eyes and mind of a sufferer, simulating the anxieties, effects of short-term memory loss, and the difficulties comprehending the sights and sounds of the environment.

For the clients themselves, their reactions have been varied but always positive. As one carer activities coordinator noted, even though some clients were a little fearful of the idea when first introduced to the headset, once it was demonstrated to them they loved the experience of being immersed in the sights and sounds of a different place without needing to get up from their armchair.