TUCSON, Arizona – Joy Golliver recently visited the Washington state community, where she and her late husband lived for over 20 years. And her children, who live in Seattle, texted her 84-year-old mother asking how she could travel from Tucson, Arizona, to Kachess Lake without their knowledge.
Thanks to virtual reality, Golliver never left Tucson. "This technology can bring us to any memory in our life we want to visit," she said.
Golliver lives in Fountains, one of Tucson's two retirement communities, serving as a starting point for a program to see how virtual reality technology helps seniors. With a headset, residents can ride a roller coaster and visit the Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, and the places where they used to live. Some researchers say that virtual reality can help seniors with cognition, dementia and loneliness.
In addition to traveling, Golliver is using technology to help write his memories.
The program, Engage VR, was developed specifically for watermark retirement communities. It uses a wireless headset system called Oculus Quest.
Watermark project manager Zoe Katleman said they will eventually make the technology available at dozens of facilities across the country, the Arizona Daily Star said. Watermark also wants to allow residents of its communities to meet virtually.
Grayson Barnes, 20, spent two years developing the Engage VR program for Watermark while studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He said most research suggests that patients with dementia look more like them after experiencing virtual reality. In addition, a group of researchers "has turned to virtual reality as a potential method for tracking early signs of dementia," Barnes said in an email.
Marvin Slepian, professor of medicine and director of Arizona's Accelerated Biomedical Innovation Center, said doctors are using virtual reality more often for diagnosis and therapy.
"Advances in wearable technology, virtual reality and integrative imaging promise to revolutionize the way we monitor, control and prevent disease," said Slepian.