The Department of Community Development (DCD) in Abu Dhabi concluded the first phase of the Virtual Reality (VR) initiative for the elderly, in cooperation with the Family Development Foundation (FDF). The experiment witnessed the participation of senior citizens and residents and was designed to explore the impact of VR and modern technology in strengthening communication and enhancing the elderly's quality of life and their social and family cohesion.
H.E. Dr. Layla Alhyas, Executive Director of the Social Monitoring & Innovation Sector at DCD, said: “This experiment, conducted by DCD in cooperation with FDF, in addition to the digital cognitive rehabilitation, are amongst the digital initiatives launched to target the elderly citizens and residents of Abu Dhabi. VR initiative has proven successful in improving mental and physical health, reducing isolation and loneliness, as well as entertaining the seniors. Such programmes reflect the department’s efforts in providing a decent life for this category within the integrated file of family quality of life and giving them their full rights to use modern technologies to be more active in the society.”
Dr Alhyas added that the participants considered this experiment a major contributor to opening dialogue with family members about different topics viewed. Furthermore, it allowed them to visit places around the world virtually from the comfort of their homes. Alhyas also confirmed that DCD's team is working with members of FDF on developing a plan for expanding the initiative to a larger group and designing content that meets the needs and desires of the elderly in Abu Dhabi.
Dr. Layla pointed out that a number of seniors were selected based on specific criteria to guarantee their safety during their participation in the innovative experiment. Multiple workshops were held to train them and their families to use the technology, as well as providing them with immersive virtual experiences around the world. Participants were satisfied and happy with the experiment, as it increased communication with their families, and expanded their perceptions and added new knowledge.
Alhyas stressed that honoring the elderly comes in appreciation of their active participation in this experiment. The initiative proved that it is possible to harness technologies such as VR to improve mental and physical health and strengthen bonds with family members and friends.
Naima Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Director of the Family Development Department at FDF, said: "The VR experiment initiative enables the elderly to enhance their psychological and emotional health and wellbeing and increase social cohesion and opportunities for dialogue." She pointed out that VR journeys have improved health and reduced psychological stress and loneliness for participants. Participants have expressed that they leveraged VR to visit places of sentimental value, overcome specific fears (e.g., fear of heights), and engage in experiences with globally renowned/ recognizable figures during their virtual journeys.
Al Mazrouei explained that the elderly faced some challenges during the experiment, including the dependency on their family members, such as their children and grandchildren, in using the device and accessing VR content. However, this was a positive outcome since it resulted in increased quality time with family members, overall strengthening family cohesion.
Al Mazrouei added: “We will continue cooperating with DCD to develop the initiative further and improve its outputs. The next phase will focus on creating tailored VR content to meet the needs and desires of the elderly. Possibilities include viewing natural sceneries in the UAE, health, cultural, and social educational content, as well as expanding the initiative to a larger segment. This experiment is an important tool that entertains, educates, and keeps participant up to date with latest technologies, places, people, and cultures.”
A special ceremony was held to honor the participants of the initiative, in which they were awarded certificates of appreciation for taking part in this experiment. The ceremony was attended by H.E. Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of DCD, H.E. Hamad Al Dhaheri, Undersecretary of DCD, H.E. Mariam Al Rumaithi, Director General of FDF and representatives from both entities.