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Virtual Voyagers: Residents Use Technology to Explore the Universe


Posted on November 30, 2017 by Atria Senior Living


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Whenever Atria at Foster Square residents want to go on an adventure, they simply head to the California community’s movie theater. There, they can journey across the universe using Google™ Expeditions, an innovative virtual reality technology.

Google originally designed the program to allow schoolchildren to take immersive, virtual field trips to the Great Barrier Reef, the Colosseum and beyond. When the Engage Life® team at Atria at Foster Square – just a few miles from Google headquarters in Silicon Valley – learned of the technology, they recognized the program’s potential for residents and lobbied to be one of the first senior living residences in the country to offer the program.

“If we’re able to help residents see and experience new things, that helps with their overall wellness,” said Shannon Wilson, Manager of Engage Life Operations. “The expeditions also let them reconnect with experiences from the past, which often leads to sharing those memories with other residents.”

Residents wear virtual reality headsets while a program leader controls the expedition through a tablet, highlighting points of interest. So far, they have walked along the Great Wall of China, rocketed to the International Space Station and trekked to Peru’s Machu Picchu, to name a few. Google offers more than 600 expeditions, so there are plenty more places to explore.

“We enjoy the expeditions because it’s something different and educational,” resident Charlotte said. “We get to actually see what we’re learning, rather than just reading or listening.”

The experiences may be virtual, but the emotions they evoke are authentic. Kerrie Anastassatos, Divisional Engage Life Innovation Director, recalled a “visit” to Rio de Janeiro and its famous Christ the Redeemer statue. Residents Teresa and Doris, Bolivian sisters who traveled to Rio when they were younger, gasped with delight when they saw the statue.

“It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces as they reached out into the air in an attempt to touch the statue,” Anastassatos said. “The experience is that real!”

In May, residents celebrated Cinco de Mayo by going on a virtual expedition to Mexico with students from a nearby school. Since then, the community and school have partnered to go on more intergenerational journeys.

Earlier this fall, Atria expanded the Google Expeditions program to a handful of other communities across the country.

“The opportunity to offer meaningful, multifaceted programming is endless with the virtual reality headsets,” said Anastassatos.


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