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Can virtual reality help treat anxiety in older people?

Date:
February 17, 2015
Source:
Universite de Montreal
Summary:
Up to 25% of people aged 65 and over experience varying degrees of anxiety. Although cognitive behavioral therapy is a preferred treatment approach, it has limitations as people age (decreased mobility and visualization skills). Could virtual reality be an effective therapy for anxiety in older people? Some researchers say yes.
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Up to 25% of people aged 65 and over experience varying degrees of anxiety. Although cognitive behavioural therapy is a preferred treatment approach, it has limitations as people age (decreased mobility and visualization skills). Could virtual reality be an effective therapy for anxiety in older people? This novel therapeutic avenue for this clientele seems promising, according to a literature review conducted by the team of Sébastien Grenier, PhD, a researcher at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM) and a research professor at Université de Montréal.

One technique of cognitive behavioral therapy consists of getting people to confront their anxiety by exposing them to mental images, objects or situations that trigger their fear, and continuing the process until this reaction decreases. People may physically travel to a location or just imagine the stressful situation (such as flying or getting sick).

Dr. Grenier explained the benefit of the virtual approach for older adults: "As people age, their ability to create mental images and their abstraction skills get weaker. For seniors, imagining intangible or abstract situations therefore becomes more and more difficult. Virtual reality exposes people to the source of their anxiety without having to physically go somewhere else or imagine their fear. This could be an additional treatment tool for therapists," he suggested. This novel approach holds particular promise because it is non-pharmacological and free of significant side effects.

Currently, Dr. Grenier is conducting a pilot study to test the feasibility of this approach. However, a number of trials must be conducted before it can be applied in a clinical setting. Will older people be comfortable with this technology? Will they believe in the simulation? Will they be more susceptible to cybersickness?

Dr. Grenier has received support from the Quebec Network for Research on Aging (RQRV) to launch the pilot study. The literature review was published in International Psychogeriatrics in September 2014.


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Materials provided by Universite de Montreal. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sébastien Grenier, Hélène Forget, Stéphane Bouchard, Sébastien Isere, Sylvie Belleville, Olivier Potvin, Marie-Ève Rioux, Mélissa Talbot. Using virtual reality to improve the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of late-life anxiety: preliminary recommendations for future research. International Psychogeriatrics, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S1041610214002300

Cite This Page:

Universite de Montreal. "Can virtual reality help treat anxiety in older people?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150217114123.htm>.
Universite de Montreal. (2015, February 17). Can virtual reality help treat anxiety in older people?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150217114123.htm
Universite de Montreal. "Can virtual reality help treat anxiety in older people?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150217114123.htm (accessed May 26, 2017).

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