Virtual reality helps connect residents with dementia

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Ponte Vedra Gardens Alzheimer’s Special Care Center is always looking for ways to further open up the streams of communication with their residents and they are now using virtual reality to do so.

Thanks to a partnership with Viva Vita: Live Life, an organization that specializes in delivering virtual reality to senior communities across the country, they have implemented the program for the past six months.

Since it got started, Ponte Vedra Gardens Program Director Jennifer McCormick has seen a difference being made in the people’s response to it.

“It’s certainly the way of the future,” McCormick said. “Especially during COVID, we began trying to find ways to help seniors feel more connected.”

According to McCormick, everyone at the facility has some form of dimension, but they can all take part in the virtual reality exercises if they choose to.

The program offers many different types of trips to various locations around the world. Destinations, such as, trips to Cairo, Paris and Ireland, and locales around the U.S.

Not only are these and many other trips available, but new virtual realities are being added to the selection each month.

“We can specialize the experience based on what the resident’s specific personality and cater to what their interests are,” McCormick said. “We even have trips to the Louvre and the Mona Lisa for those interested in the arts.”

McCormick has seen the virtual reality tend to create an opportunity for residents to connect with those around them that may not have existed before.

She attributes this to the avenues of conversation that it opens up, such as perhaps sparking a memory of a time when they visited the place they just saw in virtual reality, and it gets them wanting to talk about it.

“With dementia, it can be hard for them to express thoughts, but this gives them an outlet,” McCormick said. “We’ve had a lot of success with men. They really seem to enjoy it.”

When it comes down to it, virtual reality is just something so fascinating to so many people, even to the point where staff wants to take part in it and they are allowed to, because it allows for the experience to be further shared.

The facility only has two headsets, which each have a screen that goes over the eyes of its user. Having it in a headset form makes the process much more portable than if it was attached to a larger monitor.

“It is so nice, because I can take it right to their room and they can enjoy it,” McCormick said. “It is much more convenient.”

Each virtual reality session lasts about 15 to 20 minutes.

However, due to the increasing interest in the program, McCormick says there are plans to get more accessories in the future, including an additional headset and the possibility of adding a large screen where the virtual reality projections the user is seeing can also be viewed by those without a headset.

“I’ve been here for six years, and they introduced something similar years ago, but it didn’t have many options,” McCormick said. “I think it will only continue to grow. It’s only the beginning.”

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