Virtual reality to help seniors stave off cognitive decline

"People can change their brains and cognitive abilities no matter how old they are," said researcher Ping Jiang.
By Brooks Hays  |  April 5, 2017 at 11:08 AM
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April 5 (UPI) -- Scientists in Finland want to curb cognitive decline among seniors using virtual reality.

Activities like hiking and birdwatching can bolster the cognitive abilities, but getting out and about is often too difficult for aging adults. Virtual reality can offer cognitive stimulation inside a senior's bedroom -- no travel required.

"I think we can help people who could potentially suffer from cognitive decline later by keeping them active," Ping Jiang, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, said in a news release.

Jiang, who is currently studying brain plasticity among children, says it is a common misconception that cognitive abilities become more static as humans age.

"Neural plasticity is in fact something that exists throughout our lives," Jiang said. "People can change their brains and cognitive abilities no matter how old they are."

Virtual reality can encourage seniors to get a little exercise and engage their cognitive faculties.

Jiang is currently working with other scientists to study how adults at nursing homes can use and benefit from virtual reality. Their project, dubbed Senior Cognitive Booster, was a semifinalist winner in the Helsinki Challenge.

Jian and her colleagues will measure behavioral changes -- as well as neural changes using functional MRI scans -- as a result of virtual reality interventions.

"We are still in the early stage in this project, but I hope that we can keep going in the competition and get funding, more impact and collaborators during the Helsinki Challenge," Jiang concluded.

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