The Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality by Older Adults: Potentials and Challenges


Alexander Seifert, Anna Schlomann


The use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) promises many benefits for older adults, such as promoting a healthy lifestyle with health-related gaming, maintaining social contact via digital interfaces, supporting rehabilitation, and aiding in everyday life tasks (Czaja et al., 2019Schlomann et al., 2019Appel et al., 2020Dermody et al., 2020). AR allows users to interact in new ways with their real environment, whereas VR provides them with new experiences in virtual environments. Although VR/AR user experiences may enhance well-being among older adults (e.g., Montana et al., 2020Tuena et al., 2020), this group is largely neglected in current VR/AR participatory research (Lee et al., 2019Sharifzadeh et al., 2020). Hence, while VR/AR tools have been developed for older adults, they were largely excluded from the development and design processes. Furthermore, gerontological aspects are rarely considered in this field.

Depending on their “real” environments (e.g., their living or social environments), older adults have different potentials and challenges when including VR/AR tools in their everyday lives. To access digital systems, individuals must accept, use, and develop skills related to these systems. However, because of the digital divide between younger and older adults, researchers should be aware of 1) the different use preferences of older adults and 2) their competencies and use levels (Seifert et al., 2019). Focusing on people aged 75 years and older, primarily those in retirement in Europe, we believe that these older adults may greatly benefit from the increased use of VR and AR, although we also acknowledge the existing digital divide. In this short opinion paper, we discuss the potential opportunities and barriers for older adults in the use of VR and AR and suggest how developers of VR/AR tools can consider their needs and preferences.