Thanks to a local non-profit, some seniors are using the platform to remain socially and more physically active, even if they are sitting in a wheel chair or laying down on their own bed.
Robert Signore of Cary created the world he calls “Thrive Pavillion”, a virtual experience for seniors to meet, learn and play within the Metaverse world.
Those who become part of the virtual experience often play a variety of games available through a variety of creators. Games include golf, tennis or card games like Uno. Sometimes they participate in a learning experience about diabetes or other health issues led by an expert.
Every participant chooses an avatar within their virtual space. It’s typically one that resembles themselves. They can engage others using their real name or other identification.
One participant named Kari proudly identifies herself as “WACVeteran”. She is a veteran of the “Women’s Army Corp” which was active from 1942 to 1978.
Kari said, “Having this is amazing because I’m here now (being seen in the VR world). I may not be able to walk in real life but I sure can hear.”
Signore says the virtual experience helps to relieve the loneliness that many elderly or disabled individuals experience “People that they like to hang out with and socialize either don’t live close by anymore or have even passed away,” he said.
Participant Tony Ferring also has physical limitations, but in the virtual world he can float around, play games and shake hands, as he demonstrated with Signore who gave him a virtual hand-shake.
Ferring said, “That shake of the hands was across the Atlantic!” Signore responded, “Yeah, that’s right! Tony’s actually from the UK (United Kingdom).”
Outside of the virtual setting, the images may look flat like a cartoon viewed on a typical video screen. However, once you wear the headset, Signore says, you’ll discover the virtual reality experience. “Since it’s using both eyes, it gives you a 3-dimensional view of what you’re looking at.”
Within “Thrive Pavillion’s” world is an activity center with a list of February activities. Signore said, “We did a lot of stuff. So we played a card game, we went to the carnival,” Other activities included an 8pm game of “The Hollywood Squares” and “Meet Pro Skateboarder Pete Kelly.”
The friendships are real. They celebrate birthdays with great excitement. Kari shouted, “Happy Birthday!” to her friend identified as “Photog”, a retired news photographer. Photog remarked, “I never thought I’d live to be three quarters of a century old.”
The keys to the experience, says Signore, are the social, mental and physical benefits. “You hear a lot of laughter and we know that laughter is the best, you know, certainly the best medicine.”
Signore says the COVID pandemic led to a greater interest among many more people who have felt socially isolated.