Can virtual travel boost moods?

POMPANO BEACH, Florida. >> Terry Colli and three other residents of the John Knox Village senior community got a computer trip to the International Space Station on June 1, a start to a Stanford University study of whether virtual reality can improve the emotional well -being the elderly.

With four 1-pound headphones with video and sound, all four could imagine floating weightlessly with astronauts and taking a 360-degree tour of the station. In other programs, residents can make virtual visits to Paris, Venice, Egypt, or elsewhere in the world; attending a car rally; skydiving; or take an excursion.

“I feel great. It’s amazing. It’s like you’re really there,” said Colli, 73, a former spokesman for the Canadian embassy in Washington.

The Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab will work with John Knox’s 1,200 residents, who will have easy access to the team under the supervision of staff members. The goal is to see if virtual reality can improve their mood, strengthen their relationships with staff, and make them more receptive to technology. The University of California will soon add other third-party communities in the United States and elsewhere.

Virtual reality works by making what a person sees and feels crawling with what they are doing. On a virtual reality trip to Paris, for example, a participant can turn left and see the Eiffel Tower with a musician playing in the foreground, and then turn right and find two people talking. If the participant moves to one, this sound increases while the other decreases.

“There is a good amount of research previously published by academic labs around the world that shows that RV, when administered correctly, can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and reduce pain.” , said Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Stanford Laboratory. “This particular study focuses on how the use of virtual reality could reduce the feelings of isolation of residents of the outside world, even more importantly after the isolation we had to face during the pandemic.”

During the demonstration in the suburban community of Fort Lauderdale, Colli; Anne Selby, 77; Mark Levey, 64; and 92-year-old Hugh Root moved their heads from left to right and up and down as they made individual trips through the space station.

“I thought you were traveling, and not alone. In some of the videos, there are people, ”said Levey, a former federal government worker.

Selby, an artist, said she felt a little nauseous as she moved around the space station because she was very realistic, but that she was able to cope by breathing deeply.

“Regardless of my age, I was right in the middle,” he said.

Root, a retired insurance salesman, was blunt: “I’m blowing my mind.”

Chris Brickler, CEO of MyndVR, the Dallas company that supplied the equipment, said volunteers will be selected to make sure they are mentally fit to use virtual reality and that each attendee has an abortion button if the person is overwhelmed by the experience. John Knox residents include people and couples living alone, in assisted living and with full-time nursing.

“As we age, we sometimes feel that there is a disconnect that can happen when there is a lack of mobility,” Brickler said. “We can’t travel as much as we want, we can’t connect with nature as much as we want, we can’t have connections with animals. All sorts of connections are lost and our walls are starting to shrink. What we have tried to do is create a platform to reclaim the world. “

Monica McAfee, head of marketing and innovation at John Knox, said community administrators believe RV helps residents (it has been used to a limited extent for three years), but the Stanford study will provide the empirical data ”. For example, he said, they want to know if RV can help residents with dementia who suffer from “sunset” – severe mood swings that begin at dusk.

“Is this a way to redirect them to enjoy something?” she said.

Northern Ohio University Associate Professor of Philosophy Erica Neely, who studies technology ethics, said it is important that Stanford receive fully informed consent, examining participants and making sure they do not use the RV alone, especially at first. He does not participate in the study.

“We definitely don’t want anyone to get caught up in the experience if they get anxious and don’t know how to turn it off,” he said. “The fact that there is a companion / concierge with whom I can go (the participant) is an absolute genius. … The idea of ​​‘Well, we don’t necessarily have people with diminished abilities who wander by themselves through physical space – maybe we can do the same for virtual space’ was very good. “

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