Social connectedness is a key factor for well-being in our lives. Loneliness, on the other hand, makes us sick. In times of the Corona pandemic, it became clear once again how important social connectedness is for us. However, the older we get, the fewer our social networks become, and social participation has also been shown to decrease with age. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 16.9 million people live alone in their homes, with 5.8 million being 65 years old or older (Destatis, 2020). By 2040, one in four people in Germany is expected to live alone.
Virtual reality (VR) and social signals as aids in the fight against loneliness in later years
In the project "ZEIT - Zusammen Erleben, Immersiv Teilhaben" (ZEIT - Experience Together, Participate Immersively), the social connection of people living apart or at a distance is to be strengthened through virtual reality (VR) and social signals. The focus is on the emotional aspects of interpersonal communication, such as the transmission of joy and happiness, contentment, discomfort, stress and worries, but also on the typical physical interactions that are otherwise missing in communication via video and audio, such as touching, hugging, the handshake as a greeting or the pat on the back for praise and confirmation.
Virtual environments that increase social bonds even over distances
The aim of "ZEIT" is to research and develop a multimodal VR application to build bridges between older people living alone and their relatives. The aim is to answer the question of how immersive tactile stimuli in a VR environment can be used to communicate interpersonal emotions over distance. To this end, VR worlds are being developed in an interdisciplinary consortium with the continuous involvement of nursing home residents, nursing staff and relatives. In these worlds, several people living at a distance can meet, interact and share experiences at the same time. The virtual environment adapts to the emotions and interactions of the "visitors" and thus increases social bonding.
"ZEIT" started on 1 July 2021 and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for three years in the call "Interactive Systems in Virtual and Real Spaces - Innovative Technologies for the Digital Society". In addition to OFFIS, the project partners RWTH Aachen - Institute for Textile Technology, Bergische Universität Wuppertal - Industrial Design, VISSEIRO GmbH and AWO Wohnen und Pflegen gGmbH are participating in "ZEIT".
Further articles on current OFFIS projects can also be found in our in-house magazine "Datawork":