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V.R. 'Reminiscence Therapy' Lets Seniors Relive the Past

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Residents of the Maplewood Senior Living in Massachusetts used virtual reality headsets to experience things together and build community.

Credit: Renato Ghio/RmediA

John Faulkner, 76, was becoming emotionally withdrawn before he arrived at Central Parke Assisted Living and Memory Care, the community where he lives in Mason, Ohio. He had once been an avid traveler, but cognitive decline ended that, and he became socially isolated. By the time Mr. Faulkner arrived at Central Parke, he would sit alone in his room for hours, according to Esther Mwilu, who organizes activities for the community.

His treatment plan for dementia-related anxiety included antipsychotic drugs and reminiscence therapy, a decades-old practice in which older adults engage with reminders of their youth — like music or personal photographs — meant to bring about memories and cultivate joy and meaning.

Mr. Faulkner was underwhelmed by the nostalgia. So the staff at Central Parke tried again but used virtual reality. While studies suggest that traditional reminiscence therapy can significantly improve the well-being of older people, V.R. has the potential to make it more immersive and impactful. By putting on a headset, Mr. Faulkner could walk along the virtual Cliffs of Moher in western Ireland, just as he'd done with his wife several years earlier.

From The New York Times
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