Virtual Reality as an Anxiety Treatment for the Elderly

Getting older – and even just the thought of getting older – can bring about considerable anxiety for many individuals. According to statistics reported by the Universite de Montreal, approximately a quarter of people over the age of 65 exhibit symptoms of anxiety. Their proposed solution? Virtual reality.

There is currently a pilot study underway, led by research professor Sebastien Grenier, to test the effectiveness of virtual reality on seniors’ anxiety. As to why they think virtual reality may work, it has to do with cognitive behavior therapy, which asks people to imagine the sources of their anxiety, or confront them directly, so as to overcome their fear.

For seniors, as Grenier explains, this imagining process may present problems. He states:

“As people age, their ability to create mental images and their abstraction skills get weaker. For seniors, imagining intangible or abstract situations therefore becomes more and more difficult. Virtual reality exposes people to the source of their anxiety without having to physically go somewhere else or imagine their fear. This could be an additional treatment tool for therapists.”

Grenier adds that there are no known side effects to exposing seniors to virtual reality tools, although this does need to be researched. During the pilot study, it will be determined whether seniors accept the simulation, whether it makes them feel at ease, and whether any instances of “cybersickness” will come into play.

computerAnother method that may both help seniors’ anxiety, and potentially allow them to preserve cognitive function into later years, is mindfulness. As we recently covered, research performed at Teesside University found that a holistic exercise program complete with mindfulness, yoga and tai chi principles eased some dementia symptoms in sufferers.

Also, while we wait for more research on virtual reality and anxiety in older individuals, we have many other natural anti-anxiety methods to try. There are certain herbs to try, and pressure points that may help… and never underestimate the power of a close, caring friend.

As with any treatment, it is always a wise decision to talk to your doctor before making a major lifestyle change. While herbs are generally safer than pharmaceuticals, they are still very potent, and need to be used with care.

Who knows, in the near future, we may be adding a virtual reality session to our list of drug-free anti-anxiety solutions. Time will tell…

-The Alternative Daily


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