So, what is virtual reality (VR)? It's easy to spot, just look for the person with goggles over the eyes and they seem to moving around aimlessly. Looking up and down, some may be fighting for thier lives, while others are walking across a tight rope that has been stretched over the Grand Canyon. But, VR can also come without goggles and be displayed on the TV. Some of you reading this article may be very familiar with the Nintendo Wii or the X Box Kinect systems. Both systems have games that simulate snow skiing and it's movements. The participant stands on a piece of equipment that has been carefully calibrated to detect the pressure from your feet. Those signals are then sent to the computer inside the gaming unit, Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect, then delivered to the TV screen, mimicking your movements from the equipment you are standing on. I have experience with both systems, and both work well to help improve balance, but they do have some limitations, as I will explain later in the article. Some of these VR systems, such as Occulus, can offer very realisic views of the world or game simulations. By definition, virtual reality (VR) is the experience in which users feel immersed in a simulated world, via hardware, headsets and software. Designers create VR experiences, virtual museums, transporting user s to 3D environments where they freely move and interact to perform predetermined tasks and attain goals and learning.(*2)
Many Seniors wish to spend and live out their lives at home. In-home health makes that a reality for many but the costs are high, especially for those that need 24-hour care. Being able to remain strong and mobile also helps increase the odds that living out your days at home will be a possibility. Nursing homes and facilites are facing staff shortages and financial challenges, according to a study published by the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL). The studied brought to light some scary realities, such as 78% of nursing homes and 61% of assisted living communities are concerned workforce challenges might force them to close.(*1) In addition, more than one-third of nursing homes are very concerned about having to shut down thier facility(ies).*(1) This is an added motivating factor for Seniors and their families to find solutions that they may have not considered before. Solutions like VR and Balance University!
So, how can VR benefit Seniors? VR can help Seniors improve their balance by creating a proprioceptively enriched environment, something necessary to improve balance. All those big words mean that one must be in an environment where they are stable, but a bit unstable. Imagine standing on one foot, you're stable but a little unstable. Skiing down a hill using VR is a great way to create this environment. Depending on your familiarity and comfortability with technology and making changes to software applications, you can make the ski game easier or harder. This is where limitations may impede progress. Someone that is not too comfortable making those changes may not change the settings to the game, thus limiting the effectiveness to improve balance.
Research does indicate that VR can improve a Seniors balance, including a bit of fun too! VR includes Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect in this study and the improvement in balance that they can impact and have real life results. (*1)
Chris R. Williams
Author, Fitness Professional
- State of the Long-Term Care Industry
- Interaction Design Foundation