From space station to Broadway play: Senior living residents get to travel in virtual reality program – News – McKnight’s Senior Living

Senior living residents in California are getting a chance to immerse themselves in fantasy travel and adventures from the comfort of home as participants in a virtual reality program supported by a local energy company.

The program will be provided to 10 eldercare communities in Bakersfield, including 1,300 assisted living, memory care and hospice residents. It had its kick-off event on Monday at Brookdale Riverwalk, a continuing care retirement community. Seniors wore light (470-gram) headsets to experience various fantasy scenarios with 360-degree panoramic view of the surroundings, such as a front row seat at a Broadway hit, driving a race car, and tours of famous cities such as Paris, Venice and Egypt. 

Users participate individually, in pairs or in a group, along with caregivers. The technology provides the experience of physical sensations as well — such as the feeling of weightlessness in a tour of the International Space Station.

The program is fully underwritten by Vaquero Energy, a local utility, in partnership with virtual reality tech developer MyndVR. Local senior living communities and hospices receive training and access to MyndVR’s library of immersive experiences, the companies said in a statement.

“We are pleased to offer new adventures — or returns to favorite places — for those in our community who are unable to travel,” said Ken Hunter, president of Vaquero, who chose to deliver the program in his hometown. “Research is showing the enormous benefits VR can bring to the health and well-being of shut-ins, those dealing with memory loss, depression or other challenges, as well as to those who just can’t do some of the things they used to enjoy.”

The technology is helpful in assisted living and memory care facilities — especially for distraction and reminiscence therapy, MyndVR CEO Chris Brickler told McKnight’s Senior Living. Recreational use also is encouraged. Caregivers can control the videos watched by the resident and share them together, which helps in reminiscence therapy, he said.

Image of residents sharing virtual reality experiences with care providers.
Residents sharing virtual reality experiences with care providers. Photo credit: MyndVR

“Residents have expressed happiness and excitement when getting to do things they love or check off items on their bucket list like traveling the world, going skydiving or swimming with dolphins,” Brickler said.  

Participant communities were selected by the hosting companies and will keep three headsets and tablets for 24 months. In addition to Brookdale Riverwalk, participating operations include Solstice Senior Living, Village at Seven Oaks, Palm at San Lauren, and Pointe at Summit Hills senior living communities in Bakersfield, plus Golden Inn and Village in Santa Ynez and Kern County Aging and Adult Services. Participating Bakersfield hospices include Evergreen Post-Acute, Hoffman Hospice and Bristol Hospice of Bakersfield.