Med Students Experience Old Age Through Virtual Reality

physician training

Despite a rapidly growing senior population, thanks in part to the vast number of baby boomers entering retirement age as well as increasing longevity due to advances in medicine, very few doctors are specifically trained to treat elderly patients.

Geriatric medicine in a specialty that is in high and growing demand and yet very few medical students are training to care for the needs of a rapidly expanding elderly population. By 2030, one out of every five Americans will be older than 65, yet the American Geriatrics Society reports that there is only one certified geriatrician in the U.S. for every 2,600 seniors over the age of 75.  And medical students are not lining up to study for this less-than-glamorous specialty.

In response to a shortage of doctors with specific training in elderly patient care, medical schools are making an effort to give more geriatric education to physicians in all specialties with workshops, mini-fellowships and now with the help of virtual reality software.

In order to gain a better idea of what it’s like to be an older adult, perhaps with vision or hearing problems, medical students at the University of New England are using virtual reality software to put themselves in their future patients’ shoes.   Students who put on the VR headset experience life through the eyes, and ears of Alfred James, a 74-year-old African-American with high-frequency hearing loss and advanced macular degeneration.

According to a recent report in the Portland Press Herald, The Alfred Lab technology is also being used at the University of California, Irvine, University of Illinois in Chicago and Fontys University in the Netherlands.    The software is designed to help young students experience first hand what it might be like to suffer from macular degeneration or hearing loss and develop a greater understanding of the frustration and isolation many seniors experience.

Plans are in the works to expand the technology to include training for other medical conditions including dementia and end of life care.

To learn more about virtual reality training, visit the Embodied Labs website at .