After traveling the world for most of her life, 95-year-old Tama Mitsui found herself bedridden 12 years ago with a knee injury. Not able to move well, she wondered how she would feed herself, let alone see more of the world’s amazing places.

At a rehabilitation center, she met Kenta Toshima, a therapist who wants to help seniors like Mitsui see the world again. But, instead of actually taking them there, Toshima is allowing them to travel from the comfort of their room.

It all started when Toshima saw patients continually dropping out of the rehabilitation center where he worked. “Most of the seniors feel uncertain and pessimistic about their future,” Toshima said, according to the Pulitzer Center. “Where are they heading? What’s the meaning of all this rehabilitation?”

But he did notice that many seniors had fond memories of their travels and experiences around the world. So, Toshima decided to try to help them find that excitement again on a path they could handle physically.

He traveled the world capturing 360-degree video to bring back and show his patients using virtual reality. 

“They wanted to see even more of the places from their memories, therefore I felt that I could show them more by using virtual reality and showing them [these places] in 360. With VR, they can look around however they’d like to and experience the footage actively,” Toshima told CNN Travel.

After seeing some success, Toshima teamed up with Astushi Hiyama, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, to see just how VR could further improve the lives of his patients.

“VR travel gives seniors an illusion that they are physically well enough to travel, and it leads to improved cognitive and physical functions.”
Pulitzer Center

Hiyama theorizes that, “VR travel gives seniors an illusion that they are physically well enough to travel in reality, and it leads to improved cognitive and physical functions,” the Pulitzer Center reports. “VR has the potential to maintain seniors’ physical and mental health at optimal condition without being dependent on drugs.”

Their research has not yet quantified VR’s medical benefits, but anecdotally, Toshima’s VR videos are helping patients mentally, and physically, recover.

Mitsui has been virtually traveling for years now, and recently bought a smartphone so she could watch additional videos. She still hopes to visit some of her favorite places in person again, an idea that was all but forgotten when she first started seeing Toshima.

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