Here's How Skilled Nursing Facilities Can Use Virtual Reality Too – MedCity News

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MedCity Influencers, Health Tech
By Avi Philipson

For the Silent and Baby Boomer generations, virtual reality is an elusive technological concept. While it’s not something they’d probably pick up and use for personal pleasure, VR has become a critical part of the patient care journey.
Up until 2019, baby boomers were the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. until millennials took the title as the nation’s largest living adult generation. In 2020, there were an estimated 21.78 million people alive from the Silent Generation and 70.68 million baby boomers. Despite these numbers, the elderly are often forgotten about when it comes to new technology, but many people don’t realize how prevalent digital tools are in their lives, especially in healthcare.
Skilled nursing facilities are no stranger to innovative technology. Their equipment is more advanced than ever before, technology is an important part of their services, and it’s helping to improve the day-to-day lives of staff. While some skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers have already found use for virtual reality in their facilities, many SNFs and LTC centers have yet to make VR a part of their offerings.
Below, I dive deeper into how skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers can use virtual reality at their organizations to benefit residents.
VR can improve rehabilitation services
SNFs offer a wide range of services to residents, rehabilitation being a big one. Most elderly patients struggle with mobility and require physical rehabilitation services to help them improve their mobility or recover from an injury. Beyond that, lack of movement is also an issue at a lot of centers across the country, which can have detrimental impacts on a resident’s health and quality of life. While stretching and exercising are so incredibly important for residents, it’s not something many look forward to during the day. Virtual reality is helping to change that outlook.
It’s challenging to maintain a resident’s interest and motivation when it comes to working out, especially because routines can become monotonous so quickly. VR can make stretches and exercises more exciting, thus keeping more residents engaged. One center in Copenhagen is even using VR on exercise bikes so that their residents can follow virtual paths and landscapes while they cycle, making it feel like they’re riding along a park or alongside a mountain.
This not only makes exercising fun, but it maximizes the benefits of rehabilitation because residents actually work out harder when introduced into a more realistic setting.
VR can slow cognitive decline
Using virtual reality to encourage physical movement not only helps enhance a resident’s mobility, it has mental benefits as well. Using VR exercise games, which is also known as ‘exergaming’ or ‘gamercising,’ can help to prevent and slow cognitive decline. Research backs this up, saying that VR exergaming has the potential to have a huge impact on dementia, Alzheimer’s, and even Parkinson’s disease.
According to emerging research from Glatt, elderly individuals who use VR games to exercise also see improvement in their brain’s ability to organize, plan, and respond. Additionally, their mood increases, they can move at a faster pace, and their quality of life becomes better. With cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s affecting 5.8 million people across the United States, using technological innovations like VR could have an unparalleled impact on the population’s health.
VR promotes socialization 
While residents live in relatively close quarters at skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care centers, it can still be difficult to get them involved and make new friends. Most SNFs put a lot of time and effort into their activity calendars to make sure there’s always something going on at the center for residents. This could be a bingo night, a movie night, or a birthday celebration, but virtual reality is another fun thing that can be added to these calendars.
VR headsets can be handed out to a large group and these individuals can play games or travel across the world together. Engaging in a group activity like this is a great way to mix up the usual events and bring an entirely new visually entertaining aspect to your residents’ days, which will bridge connections on a whole different level. We know that isolation can lead to increased health problems and higher levels of anxiety and depression, which is why socializing is critical within your facility.
Virtual reality gives residents freedom that facilities can’t really offer without technology. For most of your residents, your facility will be their last home, so they deserve to have the world at their fingertips. It may take some time to introduce VR into your center, but it will be worth it for the physical, mental, and social benefit of your residents.


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Avi Philipson is a healthcare executive with a distinguished reputation for providing high-quality nursing and rehabilitation care to residents all along the east coast. Philipson serves as the Head of Operations at Axis Health, a leading consulting company trusted by skilled nursing facilities across Maryland and New Hampshire. In his role, Philipson guides nursing and rehabilitation centers to mitigate risk, implement technological innovations, and provide compassionate care to both short-term and long-term residents.
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