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Virtual Reality: The New Cognitive Training for Older Adults?

May 22, 2020

Virtual reality technology may one day replace traditional pencil-and-paper activities for cognitive training in older adults, suggests a study published online in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 

“Virtual reality (VR) technology is a potential method to use in cognitive intervention, but the use of VR in cognitive stimulation intervention for older adults has not been investigated,” researchers wrote. “Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the mood change of older adults after participating in the VR cognitive stimulation activity.”

The study included 236 men and women age 60 and older from 19 older adult community centers in Hong Kong. Some 96 student volunteers from secondary schools helped teach study participants how to use the technology. The crossover trial included a VR cognitive stimulation activity and a pencil-and-paper cognitive stimulation activity, which served as a control. Both activities involved photographs of notable tourist sites around Hong Kong.

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After the VR activity, the total positive affect score on the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule increased significantly in participants, with positive feelings spanning interested, excited, proud, alert, inspired, and active, according to the study. The total negative affect score decreased significantly, too, with drops in negative feelings of distressed, upset, guilty, scared, irritable, ashamed, nervous, jittery, and afraid. 

After participants completed the pencil-and-paper activity, total positive and negative affect scores also improved significantly, the study found. However, reductions in the total negative affect score were significantly larger with VR than with the paper-based control activity.

“The use of VR technology is well accepted by older adults,” researchers wrote. “Therefore, the use of VR technology through smartphone and a mobile app can be a potential method for future cognitive training interventions.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Chan JY, Chan TK, Wong MP, Cheung RS, Yiu KK, Tsoi KK. Effects of virtual reality on moods in community older adults. a multicenter randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2020 April 28;[Epub ahead of print].

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