UAE: Virtual reality initiative helps elderly residents battle loneliness, improve mental health

VR technologies also help senior citizens visit places around the world from the comfort of their homes


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Thu 6 Jan 2022, 3:55 PM

Senior citizens and residents of Abu Dhabi have been able to visit places around the world virtually from the comfort of their homes through the Virtual Reality (VR) initiative.

The Department of Community Development (DCD) in Abu Dhabi said on Thursday that it concluded the first phase of the VR initiative in cooperation with the Family Development Foundation (FDF).

The experiment which witnessed the participation of senior citizens and residents, was designed to explore the impact of VR and modern technology in strengthening communication and enhancing the elderly's quality of life, and their social and family cohesion.

“The VR initiative for the elderly has proven successful in improving mental and physical health, reducing isolation and loneliness, as well as entertaining seniors citizens and residents in Abu Dhabi,” said Dr. Layla Alhyas, Executive Director of the Social Monitoring & Innovation Sector at the DCD.

“Such programmes reflect the department’s efforts in providing a decent life for this category within the integrated file of family quality of life and giving them their full rights to use modern technologies to be more active in the society.”

Dr Alhyas added that the participants considered this experiment a major contributor to opening dialogue with family members about different topics viewed.

Alhyas also confirmed that DCD's team is working with members of FDF on developing a plan for expanding the initiative to a larger group and designing content that meets the needs and desires of the elderly in Abu Dhabi.

She pointed out that a number of seniors were selected based on specific criteria to guarantee their safety during their participation in the innovative experiment.

Multiple workshops were held to train them, and their families, to use the technology, as well as providing them with immersive virtual experiences around the world.

Participants were satisfied and happy with the experiment, as it increased communication with their families, expanded their perceptions, and added new knowledge.

The initiative proved that it is possible to harness technologies such as VR to improve mental and physical health, and strengthen bonds with family members and friends.

Naima Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Director of the Family Development Department at FDF, said: "The VR experiment initiative enables the elderly to enhance their psychological and emotional health and wellbeing and increase social cohesion and opportunities for dialogue."

She pointed out that VR journeys have improved health and reduced psychological stress and loneliness for participants. Participants have expressed that they leveraged VR to visit places of sentimental value, overcome specific fears (e.g., fear of heights), and engage in experiences with globally renowned/ recognizable figures during their virtual journeys.

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