NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Within an hour one recent Thursday, a group of senior citizens nearly completed a world tour.
They walked with elephants in Africa, looked for gorillas in the shaded forest, survived a stampede of cows in the Midwest, kissed deer and horses. They walked the cliffs of Yosemite, entered a volcano in Hawaii and scaled a glacier in Alaska. They even fit in a trip to Disney World.
With new virtual reality goggles carving a path ahead, residents at Wingate Residences in Norton have found a renewed chance to see it all.
The program is part of a startup, Rendever, founded by two MIT graduate students who use Samsung Gear VR headsets to show senior citizens the world, from the comfort of their homes.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- Here's how the most- and least-vaccinated states fared against the delta variant
- Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine works in kids ages 5 to 11
- FBI searches Florida home of Gabby Petito's boyfriend
- ‘Horrible to watch,’ White House says about video of agent whipping at Haitian migrant
- Wrapped Arc de Triomphe is Christo’s fleeting gift to Paris
“Some of them are hesitant at first,” says Christine Henry, the life enrichment director at Wingate. For a generation that grew up without much technology, virtual reality goggles are from another planet.
“But once they try it, it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s geared toward the older population but everyone that’s tried it has enjoyed it and has just been blown away. I love their reactions. You can see it in their expressions, they feel like they’ve gone out and traveled to another country. They reach out to the animals because they feel like they can touch them.”
On Aug. 31, the animals sparked the largest response.
“Oh, he’s pulling me down!” Susan Caldwell, 75, laughed. After a few quiet moments in the forest, a pack of gorillas were by her side.
As Caldwell moved her head left and right, up and down, the scenery changed with her as if she were actually there: Skies up top, grass and dirt below.
“Do you want to give me a kiss?” she asked one of the gorillas. Instead, she got a sneeze.
Better virtual than in real life.
But in some ways it felt like she was right there.
She called deer and horses closer to her in the Midwest.
“I wish I had some food for you,” Susan Strack, 69, said. She reached out to give them a pat.
“You feel like you’re right in it,” Carol Bakey, 81, remarked. Her sister was the traveler of the family, but after the virtual reality experience, Bakey found joy in finally seeing what her sister had always described.
Nearby, Henry gave background on what they residents were seeing, using a tablet to keep in time with the video feed.
There are three categories for the virtual reality series, which runs three times a week for about an hour at Wingate, an assisted-living community.
There are educational trips, where residents take a guided tour and learn facts on how landmarks came to be and what they represent. There are bucket list trips, where they can explore a country they’ve never been to before, while sounds from the background add to their experience.
But although Caldwell has had her fair share of travels, including the ones on Aug. 31, she said the virtual reality experience is right up there — maybe even better. And, it sparked reminders of where she’s been. Cinderella’s Castle is one of her favorites, brought to life again Thursday when the group visited Disney World.
And then there’s a more personal creation.
With the help of Google maps, Henry can take visitors back to their childhood home, a favorite park or beach, their schools.
“It brings back wonderful memories for them,” she said.
They talked about their old neighbors or shared stories from their youth.
Soon, Wingate hopes to take it one step further. With 360-degree cameras on hand, they can lend the software to extended family members taking off on vacations, weddings or family gatherings. When photos or videos of the trip are brought back to Norton, the resident left behind can see it all as if they were right there.
“It’s being able to experience travel without actually having to travel,” Henry said.
As the world shrinks as people get older, limiting trips to a nearby park instead of around the world, experiencing travel without actually having to travel might not be a bad thing.
For more information: The Sun Chronicle, www.thesunchronicle.com