Seniors and VR: A Natural Fit

This image was posted to the OculusQuest subReddit on July 28th, 2019
by u/milkisnotavegtable of his grandmother in virtual reality, and it is
used with permission
. Thanks, milk!

This evening, I carefully wrapped up my fully-charged Oculus Quest VR headset in one of my old black T-shirts, and packed it into a carry-on bag along with my Oculus Touch hand controllers, the Quest charging cable and a couple of spare AA batteries (just in case!), and took all of it over to my mother and stepfather’s home for our regular Sunday dinner.

I still can’t get my mother to try virtual reality yet (she cites her bad neck arthritis and not wanting to mess up her hair), but my stepfather has taken to it like a duck to water! At first, I started him off slow, with a few stationary scenes from the Nature Treks VR relaxation app: a sandy tropical beach, a mountain forest glade, etc. Then I started up the Titans of Space Plus app, which has just been released for the Oculus Quest, and let him drive his own spaceship through the solar system, exploring the planets and their moons, which he enjoyed tremendously! I think I may have made a new convert.

Which has got me thinking: are seniors an overlooked market segment when it comes to virtual reality? Obviously, most VR games and apps currently in release are targeted to younger audiences, but you might be interested to note that specific VR applications for seniors are being developed.

For example, I have already written about Alcove VR, who has partnered with the AARP to release a beta app for the Oculus Go VR headset, which allows family members to connect in a virtual living room, share videos and games, and help combat the isolation experienced by some seniors.

Rendever has installed its virtual reality platform in over one hundred senior living communities in North America over the past three years, helping those seniors who may be experiencing cognitive decline or mobility restrictions through such techniques as customized reminiscence therapy (allowing them to virtually revisit their childhood home, their wedding site, or another location from their past).

Likewise, many existing consumer apps (like Nature Treks VR and Google Earth VR) can empower seniors to experience new places and do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of cost, time or mobility constraints.

It is obvious that seniors’ use of virtual reality is increasing (along with the rest of the general population), and that more and more research and development work is starting to take place on the practical and therapeutic use of VR in settings such as seniors’ communities. And, of course, the non-practical but still essential recreational and fun uses!

So the next time you pay a visit to your grandma or grandpa, pack your Oculus Quest along. You never know what might happen!

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Alcove VR: A Brief Introduction to a Virtual Reality App Focused on Connecting Families and Combating Social Isolation

Alcove VR is a different kind of social VR platform. According to their website:

Alcove is a virtual reality app connecting family members across generations by bringing them together inside a virtual world filled with immersive experiences.

When you can’t physically be in the same room, or even on the same continent, meet your loved ones in Alcove’s virtual living room to create new memories as you journey around the globe, watch videos that surround you and play cognitive games together.

The company explains why they are focusing on this particular niche:

Social isolation is an increasing health concern. Studies have found that isolation and loneliness are worse for health than obesity or smoking, especially if you’re over 50. The health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Alcove was built with this in mind. We are driven to knock down the barriers created by social isolation or physical limitations, and open new doors to those affected … and we’re doing it with fun and engaging VR. Alcove bridges the physical distance between family members and empowers people to experience new places and things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of cost, time or mobility constraints.

You can download a beta version of Alcove VR from the Oculus Store for the Oculus Go VR headset (there don’t appear to be versions for the Oculus Quest or the Oculus Rift yet). Alcove VR is available through Oculus’ Early Access program, and the cost is free. (It is not available on Steam.)

Alcove VR has partnered with the AARP, the American seniors’ interest group, and includes experiences created and curated by AARP Innovation Labs. They are actively looking for partnerships with other startups and content creators.

And they are running a VR Design Challenge Contest:

Games for Change is proud to announce plans with AARP Innovation Labs (also known as The Hatchery) to create a VR Design Challenge. This would be the first VR Challenge for Games for Change who has previously run Games Design Challenges on issues like climate change and immigration. The Hatchery is an innovation accelerator that works with start-ups and investors to discover big ideas and bring them to scale to change how people live as they age.

Through the VR for Change Alcove Challenge, AARP Innovation Labs and Games for Change will aim to inspire more people to think about how VR games can enhance the quality of life as we age, and enable people across all ages to experience simple, beautiful, and impactful VR. The challenge will invite developers to submit a digital game that can have health or wellness benefits for older users. Select winners and finalists may have the opportunity to have their game published on the Alcove platform.

If you are interested, more details on the VR Design Challenge are available here, along with a form to enter the contest.

You can follow Alcove VR on social media via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And, of course, I have added it to my ever-growing list of social VR/virtual worlds.