On a recent afternoon, Frank James, a resident at Commonwealth Senior Living in Charlottesville, Va., snared a front-row seat to the Broadway production of “Aladdin”—without ever leaving the facility.
The 91-year-old traveled to the performance via virtual reality. Using a set of goggles from Dallas-based MyndVR, he got a 360-degree view of the stage and theater, letting him move his head to see the show—and the space around him—from any angle, as if he were actually there.
“Claire just loved that music,” he says, referring to his late wife of 65 years. “Seeing these shows again is invigorating…. It just takes your mind off things like the lockdown.”
Once limited to gaming, VR is being embraced by an increasing number of long-term-care communities, which are turning to the devices to improve wellness and quality of life for this growing population. The caregivers say that letting residents roam through virtual environments such as distant cities or the outdoors helps them combat an array of age-related conditions—such as loneliness, depression and perhaps even cognitive deficits.
VR has gotten a big boost during the pandemic, as care-facility residents faced new restrictions on visitors and activities. Over the long term, the technology could prove useful for treating a rapidly aging population that is retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day and living longer than ever: By 2040, the life expectancy will rise to 85 from 79.4 in 2015, the Census Bureau projects.