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Is virtual reality a way to battle loneliness in older adults?

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Karl Hortsman found a way to take his 87-year-old father to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, go skiing for the first time, and tour the old neighborhood of Union, New Jersey, where he grew up. . Virtual reality help.

As part of the first phase of a clinical trial with the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Hortsman family enjoyed a new way to connect with Elder Hortsman, Ted, who lives in a nursing home in Massachusetts.

“It was an amazing experience.” Carl Hortsmann, 61, said, “My dad was really impressed. He keeps referencing it, talking about it and wanting to do it again.”

“I was so immersed in the activity that I didn’t even think about the headset. Hortsman said. “I got a lot of fun out of it.”

Phase 1 clinical trials showed significant emotional benefits for older adults. Users experienced decreased negative emotions and feelings of isolation, increased positive emotions and family involvement, and an overall improved quality of life. Families reported a significant reduction in caregiver guilt after using VR platforms with loved ones, along with similar mental health benefits.

According to Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, VR products got a boost from the COVID-19 pandemic when people wanted to be socially connected even when they were away. .

A second phase of this research is currently underway with funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Even after the pandemic is over, there will be demand for seniors to connect with family and friends through technology, Sag said.

“The market for seniors to communicate with their families continues to grow, especially as travel becomes more difficult as they get older. said Sag.

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Moving to senior living communities can lead to feelings of depression in older people, with 40% of elderly residents experiencing depression and isolation during their stay. Studies show that social isolation is as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Rendever CEO and co-founder Kyle Rand said: “People live next to each other but do not form communities. Large demographics also want to age in place. there is.”

The technology, called Alcove, is a consumer VR product open to the public through their own VR headsets by families in their own homes. Consumers can download her Alcove for free. Somerville, Massachusetts-based Rendever Inc. acquired his Alcove from his co-development partner AARP earlier this month.

By bringing Alcove in-house, Rendever hopes to expand the reach of its products and create a better aging experience for seniors around the world, wherever they live.

Provided by: Rendever Inc.

While Rendever has traditionally focused on seniors living in senior living communities, hospice organizations and hospital patients, the Alcove acquisition marks Rendever’s mission to build virtual communities and expand the use of technology. to accelerate.

With this acquisition, Rendever will better support an aging population by bringing a shared experience to millions of seniors at home and their families and caregivers.

“With Alcove, everyone can enjoy the Rendever experience from the comfort of their own home and download it right from the Quest store. It brings us so much joy and we are excited to make that mission even more hands-on,” said Rand.

Rand says Alcove has been used in 500 senior communities, with a total of 1.5 million experiences in six years.

The potential market size is difficult to predict, but Sag sees it soon reaching hundreds of millions of dollars “as the aging population grows in size and the availability of VR headsets increases.” said.

“The thing to consider is that people tend to have less vision as they get older, and they don’t need high-definition headsets and experiences, and they’re happy and surprised with what’s available today,” Sag said. said.

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“The next phase of growth is an opportunity to properly blue the lines between living and aging for seniors,” Rand said. It’s an important tool for shaping the community.It’s a tool that enables community building.When you think about the aging process, there’s no one size fits all.It’s a tool in your toolbox.”

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