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How virtual reality is helping curb social isolation among senior citizens

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Posted at 9:51 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 13:02:15-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Social isolation during the pandemic was a significant problem throughout the U.S.

The effects were devastating for seniors, especially those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But Sodalis Assisted Living in Tampa is addressing the issue with a new high-tech solution.

Virgil Pittsinger, 72, has lived at Sodalis for three years. He enjoys being surrounded by friends and socializing, but he was one of many senior citizens who felt socially isolated during the pandemic.

COVID-19 forced older adults to self-isolate for their safety, but out of the negative comes a positive — virtual reality. He says the goggles are helping him live in a new way.

"You can still do things by looking through the goggles and seeing another world," Pittsinger said.

With the goggles, seniors can enjoy events like symphonies or Broadway shows — all while sitting at their homes.

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"First, they were a little hesitant because, of course, it's something new," said Michelle Abrahante, the executive director of Sodalis Assisted Living in Tampa.

Sodalis purchased the VR goggles in November, and although some residents were initially apprehensive, Abrahante said most are now embracing the technology.

"With coronavirus and all those limitations we had to put in place, unfortunately, it limited a lot of opportunities for everyone to enjoy life," Abrahante said.

Sodalis worked with MyndVR, which has developed VR programming for hundreds of senior living communities across the country. They started making the VR goggles five years ago but have been improving them over the years.

"We've essentially reimagined VR away from this youth-based gaming culture to a very safe, secure and senior-friendly platform," said Chris Brickler, the co-founder of MyndVR.

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"We're just super excited about providing this service to so many older people that are, you know, sometimes lonely, combating isolation, certainly with a pandemic," he said. "That's been a big problem, but we also provide a lot of joy that helps with some of the depression and anxiety that exists in senior living."

"It'll break the isolation. You can take a trip and not leave your chair," Pittsinger said.

He said he'll keep using the virtual reality goggles.

"Not worry so much about what's going on in the world today, which is quite a rough world out there, you know," Pittsinger said.

Brickler said the goggles cost about $395. There's also a $20 monthly subscription for video content, and new videos are added regularly. Find out more or place an order on the MyndVR website.

This story was originally published by Anthony Hill on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.