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Fully immersive virtual reality is an emerging and promising therapeutic tool for treating psychosocial disorders in older adults, according to a new study.
French researchers evaluated the effectiveness of immersive 360-degree virtual reality videos on the well-being of older adults with and without cognitive impairments. They also looked at cyber sickness and attitudes towards the new technology.
Their findings, published in the April issues of JAMDA, the journal of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, show that the technology is becoming more accessible, affordable and user-friendly, with virtual environments, that allow users to experience a personalized, immersive 360-degree environment that stimulates an emotional response.
“Our results show that VR 360 degrees is a promising technology as it seems that the benefits can be observed after just a few sessions,” the authors explained. “Qualitative data analysis showed that older adults found the experience enjoyable, realistic, and elicited positive emotions.”
A review of 10 studies involving 524 older adults aged 68 to 87 living in shared accommodation or the community at large examined the effects of virtual reality on anxiety, apathy, loneliness, depression, social engagement, quality of life and emotions. Although rare, they also found side effects related to disorientation in virtual reality, including motion sickness, dizziness, dizziness, eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision.
The content of the VR environment is crucial to optimize the potential positive impact on well-being. They found that even short-term exposure to natural environments — forests, parks, beaches — can evoke positive feelings and reduce negative emotions in older adults with or without cognitive impairment.
“These findings have been particularly relevant during the ongoing COVID pandemic, in which VR presented a unique opportunity to enable older adults with age-related disabilities to escape from their often narrow realities and be transported to interesting, stimulating, soothing and enjoyable places. ‘ the authors concluded.
They encouraged researchers to collaborate with industry to develop new virtual reality applications for personalized content for older adults.
Virtual reality as an insurance benefit
Earlier this year, MyndVR, which provides virtual reality experiences for seniors and other older adults, announced a partnership with specialist managed care organization AgeWell New York to bring VR therapy sessions to nursing home residents as part of the CareWell I-SNP plans by AgeWell.
AgeWell is the first insurance company to cover VR as an add-on under Medicare Advantage.
MyndVR also intends to expand coverage of its VR technology through a coalition called DigitalTherapyNOW.org. The group of academic and industry partners is working to educate lawmakers to support passage of the Access to Prescription Digital Therapeutics Act, originally introduced in March 2022. If passed, the law would officially recognize digital therapeutics at the federal level.