Old age in Northern Virginia doesn’t look like old age anywhere else. Combine the region’s affluence with all those aging, tech-savvy military contractors, and you have a Baby Boomer population that can actually benefit from, rather than be alarmed by, the latest gadgetry.
“We’ve got the perfect population for it because the folks in Northern Virginia, some of these people invented these technologies,” says Andrew Carle, lecturer in Aging and Health at Georgetown University.
Carle is also executive director at The Virginian, a senior living home that Carle describes as a kind of laboratory of technologies that better seniors’ lives—which means in part contracting with colleges like Stanford to study the impact of VR on senior’s health.
Because it turns out, seniors, when you design the game right, can be big fans of the virtual world.
“If you’re older it’s more dangerous to travel potentially, so VR gives them the opportunity to explore the world,” says Carle. “But it’s not just visiting Paris today. You can visit Paris from 1965 or 1955. Because that’s the Paris they remember.”
It can be especially important for people with dementia, who respond well to memory aids. If, through a combination of CG and VR, you can reconstruct environments they’re most comfortable with, it goes a long way to improving their wellbeing.
Even simpler games, Carle notes, can help. Carle works with seniors on extremely simple, projector-based, touch-sensitive games, where seniors can interact with images on a given surface. The game tracks seniors’ responsiveness to the challenges moment by moment, and staff can adjust the game elements accordingly. It helps overcome the most frequent challenges for dementia patients, which range from apathy to confusion.
For Carle, seniors are benefitting from the technological evolution coming full circle. The refinement of technology has gotten to the point where user experience is placed above raw power: making technology as easy as possible, rather than more difficult, to use.
So, Carle says, seniors love the Wii, with its relative lack of buttons and joysticks. They love iPads, where they don’t have to use a mouse and keyboard.
“One senior said to me, one time, the instruction manual for my cell phone is bigger than my cell phone. And her point was, this generation isn’t interested in reading a 60-page instruction manual to learn how to use the phone,” Carle says. “They actually are ahead of us. They want things that you just turn on and it works.”
(Photo by Christopher Prosser)
For more stories like this, subscribe to our Senior Living newsletter.