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Virtual reality and mental health in older adults: a systematic review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2021

Miranda D. Skurla
McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA
Aniqa T. Rahman
McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA
Sarah Salcone
University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA
Liana Mathias
University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT, USA
Bhumika Shah
DeSouza Foundation, Mumbai, India
Brent P. Forester
McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
Ipsit V. Vahia*
McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
Correspondence should be addressed to: Ipsit V. Vahia, McLean Hospital, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA02478, USA. Phone: (617) 855-3291; Fax: (617) 855-3246. Email:



Virtual reality (VR) is a promising tool with the potential to enhance care of cognitive and affective disorders in the aging population. VR has been implemented in clinical settings with adolescents and children; however, it has been less studied in the geriatric population.


The objective of this study is to determine the existing levels of evidence for VR use in clinical settings and identify areas where more evidence may guide translation of existing VR interventions for older adults.

Design and measurements:

We conducted a systematic review in PubMed and Web of Science in November 2019 for peer-reviewed journal articles on VR technology and its applications in older adults. We reviewed article content and extracted the number of study participants, study population, goal of the investigation, the level of evidence, and categorized articles based on the indication of the VR technology and the study population.


The database search yielded 1554 total results, and 55 articles were included in the final synthesis. The most represented study design was cross-sectional, and the most common study population was subjects with cognitive impairment. Articles fell into three categories for VR Indication: Testing, Training, and Screening. There was a wide variety of VR environments used across studies.


Existing evidence offers support for VR as a screening and training tool for cognitive impairment in older adults. VR-based tasks demonstrated validity comparable to some paper-based assessments of cognition, though more work is needed to refine diagnostic specificity. The variety of VR environments used shows a need for standardization before comparisons can be made across VR simulations. Future studies should address key issues such as usability, data privacy, and confidentiality. Since most literature was generated from high-income countries (HICs), it remains unclear how this may be translated to other parts of the world.

Review Article
© International Psychogeriatric Association 2021

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Miranda Skurla and Aniqa Rahman are co-first authors of this manuscript


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