Time-Traveling in Your Armchair: Virtual Reality Technology Provides Reminiscence Therapy to Older Adults

Imagine putting on a visual headset that transports you to the driveway of your childhood home without even leaving your chair. You may not physically be standing in front of your old house, but the visions provided by your headset trigger your senses and force you to think about things that you may not have thought about in years. You smell the flowers that you planted in the yard with your mother. You think about how rambunctious your sister used to be when you played hopscotch with her in the driveway. You even start to wonder what ever happened to the boy next door.

Virtual Reality (VR) experiences like this are increasingly used to elicit the health benefits of nostalgia through what psychologists refer to as Reminiscence Therapy. Reminiscence Therapy forces older adults to remember experiences in their youth in order to trigger memories that cultivate joy and meaning. As VR experiences have become more attainable, so have opportunities for experiencing Reminiscence Therapy. A handful of companies are working with hundreds of senior communities worldwide to provide older adults with headsets and access to libraries with extensive virtual reality content. Relatives, friends, and caretakers of older adults can also create their own 3D videos of personal content, like weddings, to trigger memories.

Although VR technology can potentially provide endless opportunities for reminiscence, it isn’t right for everyone. In order for users to get the full 3D experience afforded by the technology, users are required to wear a headset that covers the eyes and blocks all light. This type of sensory deprivation can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable for those less familiar with technology or those with dementia who may not understand the purpose of wearing a device that blocks their vision. It’s also difficult to predict how certain individuals may respond to different nostalgic images. Images of a trip to the beach in Cancun can induce happy memories of sandcastles for some or scary memories of hurricanes for others. As such, while a prescription is not required to experience Reminiscence Therapy through VR, viewer discretion is advised.


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VR ‘reminiscence therapy’ lets seniors relive the past. Deccan Herald. (2022, May 9). Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.deccanherald.com/science-and-environment/vr-reminiscence-therapy-lets-seniors-relive-the-past-1107718.html

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