How virtual reality helps curb social isolation among local senior citizens

Virgil Pittsinger: “It’ll break the isolation. You can take a trip and not leave your chair.”
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Posted at 12:50 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 17:25:25-05

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.

In December, we uncovered just how serious social isolation was for older adults living in the Tampa Bay area.

We're revisiting the issue with an in-depth look at how virtual reality is curbing the adverse effects of social isolation for senior citizens and what those in one local assisted living community have to say about it.

Virgil Pittsinger, 72, has lived at the Sodalis assisted living community in Tampa 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 this negative comes a positive — virtual reality. Something straight out of a sci-fi movie, goggles that transport you and help you live life in a new way.

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

When ABC Action News reporter Anthony Hill paid him a visit, Pittsinger enjoyed a symphony while his friend, Pamela, watched the Lion King on Broadway. All while sitting at home in Tampa.

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

Sodalis purchased the VR goggles in November, and although some residents were apprehensive initially, she 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," said Abrahante.

"So, we've essentially reimagined VR away from this youth-based gaming culture to a very safe, secure and senior-friendly platform," said Chris Brickler, who is the co-founder of MyndVR, the company that makes these goggles.

MyndVR works with hundreds of senior living communities across the country. They started making these VR goggles five years ago but have been improving them over the years.

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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. 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," said Pittsinger in a cheerful manner.

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," said Pittsinger.

Brickler said the goggles are about $395, and there is a $20 monthly subscription with new content added monthly. You can find out more or place an order on their website.

If you know an older person who feels alone and needs help, you can call the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Helpline at 1-800-963-5337.