VR Garden: Using a Nature-Based Virtual Reality Environment for Improving Mood States and Cognitive Engagement in Older Adults
Background and Objectives: Exposure to nature and nature-based imagery has been shown to improve mood states and stave off cognitive decline in older adults. Even “micro-doses” of natural scenery can provide beneficial effects in situations where more extensive interactions with nature are not feasible. In the current study, we evaluated the use of virtual reality (VR) for delivering interactive nature-based content with the goal of prompting active engagement and improving mood states in older adults.
Research Design and Methods: The researchers developed a novel VR environment that combined 360-degree videos of natural areas and botanical gardens with interactive digital features that allowed users to engage with aspects of the envi- ronment. We recruited 50 older adults to try out this VR environment and measured changes in mood states and attitudes toward VR from before versus after the sessions. We controlled for variables such as age, education level, and exposure to nature in everyday life, and we looked for differences in responses to the VR among participants with cognitive impairments (CIs) versus without, and participants with physical disabilities versus without.
Results: The findings indicated significant improvements in “good” mood and “calm” mood dimensions after exposure to the VR, as well as improvements in attitudes toward the technology. These positive outcomes were significantly greater for participants with physical disabilities compared to those without disabilities. No differences were found in the responses of participants with CIs versus those without. Exit interviews provided a variety of helpful suggestions about ways to improve the VR equipment design and content to meet the needs of an older adult population.
Discussion and Implications: The study demonstrates that VR can provide a cost-effective, noninvasive, and nonpharmaceutical approach for improving the lives of older adults in both clinical and recreational settings, particularly when real-world access to nature is limited.