illustration of a face
Virtual reality caregivers or companions could become a trend in senior living. (Photo: Getty Images)

Imagine having a nurse or doctor that only “you” can see — one who is invisible to everyone else and who leaves no trace in the physical world. 

For older adults, or their caregivers, that might sound like another terrifying sign of cognitive decline, but in the near future, such nonphysical entities actually may be a valuable part of the senior living and care ecosystem.

Healthcare providers are just beginning to grapple with the concept of robot nurses, but even less has been written about the tech’s related cousin, “virtual humans.”

A holographic or non-physical nurse, or even companion, however, someday soon could provide a cost-effective and easily deployable solution to combat loneliness in older adults, one report notes.

A “virtual” nurse, as opposed to a robot, could “exist” and interact with older adults via virtual or augmented reality. The ability for such an avatar to “move” around the physical world would separate such technologies from a mere digital assistant confined to a computer or tablet screen.

In the future, such “virtual” entities could be designed to look like a family member, or they could “lie down” with a resident as if hanging out in the same common area, one author speculates.

Although the concept of such VR assistants, at least within senior living and care, mostly is speculative at this time, use of VR overall is not. 

Many senior living operators already have VR headsets and tools for residents to use. Largely, VR in senior living is used for entertainment purposes, such as virtual “world tours,” but increasingly, developers are finding other uses of the technology, including as clinical therapy tools or even for training caregivers.

The combination of digital tools that can create virtual or augmented reality is overall being referred to as “extended reality,” and at least one study showed a majority of healthcare professionals support such tech being deployed, particularly for training, the McKnight’s Tech Daily reported last month.