Program Takes Seniors Into Virtual Reality, Improves Brain Function

Virtual reality may be the next powerful tool in creating healthier brains.

Some seniors in Plano have been putting it to the test and say it's helped them in ways that go beyond their imagination.

Mynd VR is the company behind the technology being put the test in a pilot program at Legacy Willow Bend retirement community in Plano.

They equip residents with 3D goggles and a variety of videos they curated for the residents.

Videos include a live taping of painting performance by Dallas relectionist JD Miller.

"I call this my cobalt series," Miller said about his painting. "Art is about joy, love, making people feel good."

Watching him bring art to life becomes an experience of immersion for the viewer, and that experience is now being shared in a virtual world for a special audience.

"A lot of people don't have the opportunity to experience art or music. They're just not exposed to it," Miller said. "This takes that the next evolution, and now it's virtual dimensional oil."

"Wow! This is cool! Look at the finished work! That is beautiful," said Christina Chan, a resident at Legacy Willow Bend, as she watched Miller's live performance through her 3D goggles.

She as well as other residents, can experience something they may have never seen before, but also benefit from what researchers say is becoming a promising tool to improve brain health.

Scientific studies show virtual reality can help cope with side effects of dementia, like depression, isolation and agitation, according to Dr. Sandi Bond Chapman, founder of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas.

"The more that you can help people to engage in the memories that were very meaningful to them in a certain time of their life, it actually triggers this kind of happiness and remembering that calms their mood and lets them see empowerment," Chapman said.

"Our goal is to bring virtual reality to the entire aging population," said Chris Brickler, co-founder and CEO of Mynd VR, which hopes to expand into other North Texas retirement communities.

"The biggest surprise that I've seen has probably been how excited the senior population is to adopt this technology," Brickler said.

The goggles seem to help in other ways, too.

George Rothkoph, 96, was able to see clearly despite his macular degeneration.

"I think they outta give me a couple of those things to alternate on a daily basis!" Rothkoph said.

It's an exciting prospect for Miller as well.

"It's a great gift and a great opportunity. Now that I've seen the gift and the potential, I just want to do more," he said.

He's helping enrich the lives of seniors who are now able to enter a new virtual world full of possibilities.

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