Health

Therapists use VR to help older adults recover from falls, memory loss

Hundreds of thousands of older people are hospitalized due to falls, and now some health care providers are using VR to help prevent the accidents.

Therapists use VR to help older adults recover from falls, memory loss
Scripps News
SMS

She's 87 years old, but Rose Luptowski is young at heart. 

However, about a decade ago, her body felt the impact of aging.

Her son, Michael, said she started seeing signs, like tripping and forgetting to take her medications.

"She was starting to get progressively worse memory-wise and falling a lot, too," he said. 

Like many her age, Luptowski did not want to take a step back from activities she enjoys, like painting, crafts, gardening and going for walks.

"I like to do a lot of things, but sometimes, some things I can't do because ... I don't know, it just don't work out for me. You know, we all take that step," she told Scripps News. 

That's when Lindsey Henry, Luptowski's occupational therapist, found a way to step up to the challenge by incorporating adapted virtual reality games into her physical therapy sessions.

Video games offer older adults both physical and mental exercise
Video games offer older adults both physical and mental exercise

Video games offer older adults both physical and mental exercise

This "Next Level" episode shows how many senior citizens are finding purpose and fun through gaming.

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"I was really impressed with how it would work for this population," Henry said.

A couple of times a week during her hourlong daily physical therapy sessions, Henry fits Rose into an HTC virtual reality headset. For 5 to 10-minute bursts, the goggles make her see images of butterflies in a garden, and she plays a game in which she moves to "catch" them. The game works her balance, range of motion, attention and core strength.

Luptowski says that at first, it was overwhelming going back-and-forth from the "virtual world" to the "real world," but she has since adjusted.

The exercise fights the leading cause of injury and injury death for older adults in the U.S. 

About 36 million falls are reported in American adults 65 and older each year, and women are reported to fall more often than men, according to the CDC. Plus, at least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures, and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, the CDC says. These falls lead to more than 32,000 deaths, meaning a prevention method like VR can potentially be lifesaving.