Virtual Reality

The first VR headset design was patented in 1960 by Morton Heilig, which was named the “Telesphere Mask”. This invention looks similar to the first version of Google’s Gear VR headset . The presence of VR has only grown ever since and is now readily available in many electronic stores for relatively low prices. Jaron Lanier, CEO and founder of VPL Research, one of the first companies developing and selling virtual reality products, coined the term virtual reality by placing existing technologies – such as virtual cockpits and virtual workstations – under one umbrella [51]. Virtual reality can be portrayed in terms of technological hardware, but also in an experiential fashion. VR is often defined by a capable computer for real-time animation, a position tracker and or gyroscope, and a head-mounted stereoscopic display. Videos are played back on these stereoscopic displays, creating an electronic simulation of environments. An alternative world with computer generated output or real-world recordings can be visited with the use of these VR goggles [12]. Steuer also describes VR experientially with the use of presence and telepresence. Presence can be defined as the sense of being in an environment and refers to the natural perception of humans in it, where telepresence can be defined by the experience with the help of a communication medium and refers to the mediated perception of an environment. A telepresence can be achieved by a VR simulation of either the real world or computer-generated content. Thus, virtual reality is defined as an environment in which the perceiver experiences telepresence of either a real world or computer simulated scene.

Loneliness, Cognitive and Emotional Wellbeing

With old age, physical and mental changes often occur and is a nat- ural process of physiological, anatomical, and emotional changes. These changes often result in a decline in communication capacity [6]. Communication however is vital, and a decline therein can lead to less social interactions, socialization, and an increase in lone- liness. Furthermore, the demographic shift is in stark opposition with the technological improvements of the past centuries which changed and redefined how we communicate and relate to each other [22].

However, several studies show that introducing information and communication technologies to senior citizens can have significant and positive effects [54], [53]. Some authors have even presented it as the only possibility to mitigate isolation, loneliness and alienation in certain elderly populations [13], [29]. Other studies also suggest that the use of technology by senior citizens increases interpersonal connectivity and organizational involvement [55], [9]. It is also suggested that it reduces levels of isolation and strengthens social networks, especially for elderly coping with impaired mobility.

For senior citizens the technological revolution can widen the generational gap and create feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. There are however many opportunities for the elderly to find connection with the use of technology. This can sometimes be tedious, since the elderly can struggle with the rapid changes in this field and with the lack of education [18]. Despite seniors being hesitant at first, their attitudes do improve the more they learn how to use and interact with technology [24]. Therefore, computer classes for older adults can contribute to social and cognitive aspects of aging.

Moreover, virtual reality environments have proven to stimulate the practice of communicative and cognitive skills and offer a means for senior citizens to experience various scenes in an individual and safe way [38]. Expanding the VR possibilities from entertainment has also proven useful for the elderly [26]. In elderly healthcare, technological methods have been implemented the last decades, virtual reality being one of them. This method has proven to be significant for one of the biggest issues senior citizens face: social isolation and loneliness. In a study by Lee and colleagues, lonely

Research Results

Returning to our research questions, we find that VR platforms indeed can decrease the sense of loneliness with the elderly and have an overall positive effect on cognitive and emotional wellbeing. Introducing information and communication technologies to senior citizens can have significant and positive effects. The use of technology by senior citizens increases inter- personal connectivity and organizational involvement and reduces levels of isolation, strengthens social networks, especially for elderly coping with impaired mobility.

For senior citizens the technological revolution can widen the generational gap and create feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. There are however many opportunities for the elderly to find connection online. Despite seniors being hesitant at first, their attitudes do improve the more they learn how to use and interact with technology. Therefore, computer classes for older adults can contribute to social and cognitive aspects of aging.

Virtual reality environments have shown to stimulate the practice of communicative and cognitive skills and offer a means for senior citizens to experience various scenes in an individual and safe way. VR has proven to be significant for one of the biggest issues senior citizens face: social isolation and loneliness. VR has also demonstrated to be an effective treatment of memory deficits with the elderly. VR memory training may improve memory function by enhancing focused attention, improve general cognitive functioning, and verbal memory. VR scenery was also found to stimulate autobiographical and episodic memory. Exercise platforms using virtual reality are also methods for improving cognitive function, muscle strength, and balance of senior citizens. Creating a strong virtual presence can shift attitude towards exercise with the elderly, increasing the benefits even more.

A good example is the Butler platform, which uses natural environments in VR for therapeutic ends. The use of natural environments stands out in VR platforms, since it is found to be stress reducing and that it can improve cognitive functions. A platform such as Butler can help reduce the technology gap, for the improvement of mental health, the prevention of depression, and the facilitation of protective activities. In turn, this can improve social networks, exercising emotional capabilities, learning new communication skills, strengthening the desire to keep learning, and promoting curiosity through the developing of new skills.

Furthermore, virtual reality is not proposed to be the solution to solve loneliness within this population, but rather as an opportunity for interaction. In turn, this has a decreasing effect, since social experiences and interactions have been suggested to improve health and decrease mortality. VR platforms enable senior citizens to feel a sense of connection, a social role and belonging in society. Furthermore, in line with Ahmed and colleagues, results point out that “virtual reality is a viable option to meet the needs of elderly suffering from loneliness” [5].

What is more, these results are strongly supported by the results of the interviews, which also point out that senior citizens can benefit from the EldersVR platform. Not only the elderly, but also support personnel believe that this platform has a great impact on this sensitive audience. Seniors respond positively in general and observations also show a that seniors enjoy the experience. It starts healthy conversations when used in groups, but can also have a relieving effect when used individually.

The elderly and the people assisting them experience virtual re- ality as being a rather interesting and exciting tool. Both EldersVR Shared and Home have benefits for different use cases, where spe- cific audiences prefer the one over the other. People that have used the platform believe that it is a good tool to use to both relax and transport the elderly into new environments, as well as decreasing social thresholds senior citizens might have. VR can be experienced as intense, frightful, and nauseating, but the strong majority has a positive attitude towards it. Most studies support this notion and find the elderly to respond well to virtual realities. During the in- terviews, the elderly often got used to VR fairly quickly and were comfortable enough to look around within the first minute.

Also teachers and professionals in the field found the platform interesting and useful. Not only for the elderly, but also for students. The videos provided in the EldersVR Home experience can just as well be informative for students. They saw potential into the platform and showed great interest.


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