When a retirement home goes digital

When a retirement home goes digital

Published on 01.06.2018

Maria Hertwig looks through virtual Reality glasses at the Caritas-Altenzentrum St. Maternus

Maria Hertwig is sitting in an armchair more than 450 kilometers as the crow flies from Neuschwanstein Castle. However, she can give a verdict on the magnificent building of Ludwig II despite the immense distance. “They’ve had good people,” she says. It is unbelievable how all this material was produced. Her conclusion: “Dat’s already beautiful!“

Hertwig, 93 years old and resident of the Caritas-Altenzentrum St. Maternus in Cologne, actually sees the fairytale castle in front of her at this moment – thanks to virtual reality glasses. The device makes it possible to let the gaze wander freely in a digitally generated environment – a virtual reality. If Maria Hertwig looks straight ahead, she sees the castle. If she turns her head, she can look over the green meadows of the Allgäu. “All rich farmers,” she notes. Lots of land, few houses.

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The Caritas-Altenzentrum is a house that experiments with the achievements of the modern world of technology. For example, with video games and smart speakers, i.e. speakers that are connected to the Internet. For example, residents can ask if they have an appointment today. And the virtual reality glasses were purchased. She helps with the so-called biography work, i.e. immersing herself in her own story again. Maria Hertwig, for example, was in Bavaria as a child, she loves the area. Hence Neuschwanstein.

Virtual reality as an opportunity

The Altenzentrum is proof of the corners of society into which the new digital technologies have now penetrated, albeit sometimes quite slowly. And what hopes are associated with it.

“Virtual reality is a way to expand the horizon of experience. This is important if you are no longer able to go out yourself, “says the age researcher Uwe Kleinemas. “We also know that the course of dementia diseases can be favorably influenced by mental requirements.“ In Krefeld, for example, a project was launched in which doctors want to use digital glasses to slow down the course of the disease.

According to Kleinemas, topics such as virtual reality and video games in retirement homes are still in their infancy. There are not enough reliable studies on positive effects. So far, a positive effect can only be deduced logically. “In principle, however, the use of such electronic media should be assessed positively, because it can increase the possibilities of compensating for physical or psychological limitations.“

Herbert Mauel, Managing Director of the Federal Association of Private Providers of Social Services (bpa), emphasizes that new offers should be measured by whether they maintain or even improve existing skills. “Virtual reality glasses alone do not accomplish this task,” he says. In recent years, however, some promising interactive instruments have been developed that are intended to train attention and agility, for example. Whether this means lasting success, we have to wait and see.

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However, Hermann Brockenauer doesn’t really care about long-term effects at first. Brockenauer is considered a passionate car racer at the St. Maternus retirement center. Now he is sitting with a controller in front of the rally video game “Dirt 3”. He needs to choose a car color. “Let’s take black,” says the 77-year-old. “Then you can see the dirt better later.” And nice sound, “so that you can hear the engine”.

“There are not so many things for the target group yet,” says Jana Timme, who works in social care. “But slowly it is being discovered.“

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