New Study Launched To Explore The Potential Of Virtual Reality To Reduce Social Isolation And Depression Among Seniors

A new mHealth study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging is set to take place in senior living centers in Massachusetts and California. The $2 million grant was awarded to the University of California at Santa Barbara to investigate how virtual reality (VR) platforms can help reduce social isolation and depression among seniors. The grant is the second given to Rendever, a digital health company based in Boston that is developing VR products to tackle these issues. This study is an exciting opportunity to explore the potential of VR and how it can be used to help improve the lives of those in senior living centers.

UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Communication and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) are teaming up to test the effectiveness of a virtual reality (VR) platform on seniors dealing with isolation. About 400 seniors living in 12 communities in both Boston and central California will be participating in the project. Building on an earlier federally funded phase that suggested positive outcomes in terms of family relationships and emotional stability, the Phase II grant from the NIA will enable the team to expand the data collected and assess the long-term impact of VR. The randomized clinical trial will also compare the results of VR-based communication with standard modes of communicating such as video chat. The program, which is set to run through 2022, will likely make use of telehealth amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This clinical trial seeks to build virtual reality platforms to enable seniors to stay connected to distant family and friends, communicate with loved ones and care providers, and improve their mental health and wellbeing. According to Rendever co-founder and CEO Kyle Rand, the trial is the first of its kind and will help push the boundaries of what is possible with VR. He believes that this technology has the potential to build thriving communities and maintain the important social connections that seniors have before they move in. The team is now moving on to Phase II of the trial, and have stated their gratitude for the hard work and enthusiasm that has been put into this project thus far.