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Virtual Reality For The Elderly, VR Finds New Fans

‘No One Cares About Me’

A former emergency room doctor, Kim found her way to virtual reality through a series of tough requests. A few years ago, she was running a house-call practice when she received a call for help from a woman whose 88-year-old mother had stopped eating and drinking. As a result, she’d made three trips to the ER in a month, racking up more than $50,000 in medical bills.

Kim knew that seniors often end up in the hospital for preventable conditions — like dehydration, malnutrition and electrolyte imbalances — exacerbated by loneliness and lack of self-care. And when she asked the older woman why she’d stopped eating, Kim recalls, her patient replied: ” ‘No one loves me. No one cares about me. I don’t matter anymore. Why should I eat, why should I drink, why should I live? I just want to die today.’ ”

Virtual Reality Elderly IamVR

“When I was driving back home from that visit, I couldn’t stop sobbing,” Kim says. “As a single woman without any kids, I thought, when I’m her age, who’s going to call me? Who’s going to take care of me?”

That interaction led Kim to found One Caring Team in 2014. Staffers regularly phone seniors at home to check on their mood, medications and appointments, and prompt them to chat about positive subjects, like what makes them happy or what they could do to bring joy to someone else.

But then one day, as Kim was giving a talk about her service, a man in the audience asked: “What about my mom?” His mother has dementia, he said, and couldn’t have a coherent phone conversation. Finding a solution for his mom, Kim says, became her “new homework assignment.”

By chance, Kim had been reading about virtual reality and decided to attend a VR mixer in San Francisco; someone let her use an Oculus headset to walk through a virtual garden, and she “totally fell in love” with the medium. Convinced the older patients would like it, too, she borrowed a friend’s headset and took it to a preventive care conference. By the time she was done, she already had directors of assisted-living facilities asking about pricing.

That convinced her that the concept could sell, but she wanted to make sure VR could actually make people feel better.

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