The role of virtual reality in improving health outcomes for community-dwelling older adults: systematic review

Gordana Dermody, Lisa Whitehead, Graham Wilson, Courtney Glass

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Virtual reality (VR) delivered through immersive headsets creates an opportunity to deliver interventions to improve physical, mental, and psychosocial health outcomes. VR app studies with older adults have primarily focused on rehabilitation and physical function including gait, balance, fall prevention, pain management, and cognition. Several systematic reviews have previously been conducted, but much of the extant literature is focused on rehabilitation or other institutional settings, and little is known about the effectiveness of VR apps using immersive headsets to target health outcomes among community-dwelling older adults. Objective: The objective of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of VR apps delivered using commercially available immersive headsets to improve physical, mental, or psychosocial health outcomes in community-dwelling older adults. Methods: Peer-reviewed publications that included community-dwelling older adults aged ≥60 years residing in residential aged care settings and nursing homes were included. This systematic review was conducted in accordance with the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) methodology for systematic reviews of effectiveness evidence. The title of this review was registered with JBI, and the systematic review protocol was registered with the International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. Results: In total, 7 studies that specifically included community-dwelling older adults were included in this review. VR apps using a head-mounted display led to improvements in a number of health outcomes, including pain management, posture, cognitive functioning specifically related to Alzheimer disease, and a decreased risk of falls. A total of 6 studies reported a statistically significant difference post VR intervention, and 1 study reported an improvement in cognitive function to reduce navigational errors. Only one study reported on the usability and acceptability of the interventions delivered through VR. While one study used a distraction mechanism for pain management, none of the studies used gaming technology to promote enjoyment. Conclusions: Interventions to improve health outcomes through VR have demonstrated potential; however, the ability to synthesize findings by primary outcome for the older adult population is not possible. A number of factors, especially related to frailty, usability, and acceptability, also need to be explored before more substantial recommendations on the effectiveness of VR interventions for older adults can be made.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17331
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • aged
  • aged, 80 and over
  • independent living
  • outcome assessment, health care
  • systematic review
  • virtual reality


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