A recent article in Reuters Health reported that one out of every five nursing home residents that suffers verbal or physical nursing home abuse is not enduring that abuse at the hands of one of the staff members at a facility. Rather, about 20% of all verbal and physical nursing home abuse cases involve violence committed by another resident. While these cases may result from serious issues of nursing home neglect and understaffing (and the general failure to properly monitor patients in a facility), a recent article from NPR and KQED News, a new virtual reality device is helping seniors in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to remain calmer and to, perhaps, live fuller lives.
Can such technology help to prevent elder abuse when it is perpetrated by other residents?
Virtual Reality Improving the Lives of Seniors
How can virtual reality actually calm seniors living in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities? According to the article, Dr. Sonya Kim developed a device specifically for the needs of the elderly. She sees the device, a headset that can “transport” a senior user to a beach in Hawaii, for instance, as “a way to help people relax, an alternative to endlessly watching TV, and a change of scenery for those who can’t get out much.”
In particular, seniors who are unhappy and dealing with anger or anxiety issues may be able to live healthier and happier lives through virtual reality. At the very least, that is what Dr. Kim hopes the technology can do. As she explains, the “Aloha VR program . . . allows them to forget their chronic pain, anxiety, the fact that they are alone.” She describes the technology as “a new care modality to bring to a senior care setting.”
Facing the Underlying Causes of Self-Neglect
As the Reuters article explains, cases of patient-on-patient elder abuse can result from nursing home neglect. If staff members at facilities are not paying sufficient attention, violence can ensue. In addition, patients with dementia or mental health issues who are not properly attended to by staff can engage in acts of verbal and physical abuse aimed at other residents. At the same time, signs and symptoms of elder neglect are not always the result of another party’s negligence. Indeed, elder self-neglect is a serious problem that can lead to a senior’s injuries and even death. According to the NPR report, Kim’s virtual reality device may be particularly useful in preventing the harms associated with elder self-neglect.
As Kim, a former emergency room doctor, explains, avoidable injuries resulting from dehydration and malnutrition often are “exacerbated by loneliness and lack of self-care.” Having an escape—even if only through virtual reality—may be able to make a difference in an elderly person’s life. In addition, studies suggest that virtual reality can indeed have an effect when it comes to “managing chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.” And as Kim points out, those are symptoms that occur with some frequency in dementia patients living in nursing homes.
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(photo courtesy of Christopher Michel)