VR helps patients with Dementia : For most people, virtual reality’s promise of transporting us to a different world in a heartbeat is a great novelty. But for those who cannot travel freely, it’s a lifeline.

Sonya Kim, a physician in the San Francisco Bay area, has been taking virtual-reality headsets to seniors as a part of their medical treatment. Her therapy program, Aloha VR, lets seniors use the headsets to bring variety into their days, relax and provide a chance to get away to a virtual tropical locale.

High-tech and seniors may not go together in many people’s minds. But virtual reality is actually just the latest in technologies helping them. Nintendo Wii’s motion gaming technology, in its heyday, was a hit in nursing homes, as a way to get residents to exercise. Kinect, Microsoft’s motion gaming sensor, has been used to help patients recover from painful operations. And many wearable and smart appliance technologies are being developed to help older people live in their own homes, rather than go to nursing homes.

Virtual-reality applications have been mostly focused on gaming, but their role in therapy is being examined by a handful of medical professionals, such as Kim.

Kim’s company, One Caring Team, checks in with lonely seniors — partially to stave off the potentially debilitating depression that grips many older adults who live on their own. A woman, who heard Kim speak about her company, asked Kim to help her mother, who had dementia and couldn’t carry on a conversation.

“That gave me a new homework assignment,” said Kim, who began researching technologies that could help those patients. She was particularly struck by the potential for VR therapy to help seniors with loneliness after trying it out at a game developer’s conference. Kim then worked to develop Aloha VR.

“It’s a new solution for an old problem,” Kim said. “It lifts the moods of those patients who are so anxious and bored, or depressed because they think no one cares about them. We’ve brought beautiful places to seniors who can’t go anywhere.”

Aloha VR is getting some dramatic results. In many cases, seniors who’ve withdrawn from the rest of the world because of dementia or depression have had their overall behavior greatly altered by their digital trips to the beach. Kim has seen patients that were unresponsive or even violent completely change after a few VR sessions.

more from : Hayley Tsukayama