Seniors at Glencroft

Seniors at Glencroft in Glendale, like Mike Bozel, travel the world—via a virtual reality program called “Coastal Distancing.”

While many senior centers have been “locked down” for months during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Glencroft Center for Modern Aging in Glendale, seniors have been flying around the world—thanks to virtual reality.

The VR technology allows for residents to venture nearly anywhere in the world. They can visit their hometowns, climb mountains and even deep-sea dive with aquatic wildlife.

“I went swimming with the fish, and that was something I would have never been able to do. It was so fun! Then, I wanted to go to Israel and see the hotel on top of the Mount of Olives Square,” said Annette Wright, a Glencroft resident who is 90 years old.

The world has suddenly become an accessible place for seniors at Glencroft.

“One of my favorite places I’ve always wanted to go to was Italy, especially to Rome. I really enjoy traveling, and there’s a couple of places that I plan on visiting, ” said Robin Lyons, 78 and a Glencroft resident for eight years. “It’s fun to be able to go someplace that I physically couldn’t go to and to be able to see things that clearly. I was just amazed.”

Glencrot calls the new program “Coastal Distancing,” allowing residents to travel and enjoy extreme movement safely.

The residents can “climb” Machu Picchu, “ski” the Swiss alps, take part in the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field or visit the home where they grew up, all without leaving Glendale.

Glencroft Vice President and Director of ZoeLife Operations Steve Heller oversees the program. “Once our resident is connected to safety leads, which remove any risk of falling, they are immersed in an alternate world of their choosing,” explained Heller, who is also an exercise physiologist. 

“Most will stretch, pull, jump or climb far beyond what they would try in the ‘real world.’ (The program) improves their balance, flexibility, motor skills, core strength and their confidence,” he added. “They don’t even realize what a workout they’re getting because they’re so engrossed in the experience.”

In addition to exercise, the technology allows for personal experiences.

“One of the residents, we asked, ‘Do you remember the address to the house?’ We punched the address in,” said Michelle Jones, who works at the center. “All of the sudden I hear, ‘Hey, that’s the house I grew up in!’ He was able to walk around and walk around the block. … He hadn’t been there since 1970, so the emotional response was priceless.”

Some residents are eager to share the program with loved ones.

“My daughter’s birthday is Oct. 30, and she’s coming. She was excited about what I was able to do, and she’s now looking forward to it, too,” said Wright.

Safety is key, Jones stressed.

“We accommodate depending if we have people who are able to stand or not. … We have a waist strap, so it’s waist belted and strapped with a seat belt. Their legs are strapped as well. They are able to bounce and move. They can do a full 360 on the platform, so for anybody that can’t stand the entire time, I’ll put them in head gear and then let them use the hand controls. If they don’t feel comfortable doing that, I hop in the VR and we put it in front of the large screen so they can use it that way,” said Jones. 

Glencroft is celebrating its 50th year by using technology to keep seniors connected, as part of its varied Glencroft University program.

“I consider it one of the best decisions in life to move here. The reason for that is the safety, there’s many things to do and a lot of activities. There’s something for everyone. Also, it’s a very friendly campus,” said Lyons.