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Tucson seniors traveling the world through virtual reality

Posted at 8:32 AM, Jul 11, 2023

There's a new kind of technology opening the minds of some local seniors.

At the Hacienda at the Canyon, they're using virtual reality to explore the world.

Just off Sabino Canyon Road and River, you'll find the seniors doing things a little differently.

As part of a company-wide project through Watermark Communities, this retirement community sports a virtual reality - or "VR" headset.

Seniors can just put it on over their eyes, and with a little help from the staff, they're instantly transported into a new place.

"The first thing I saw was SCUBA diving," explained Susan Harwood, 77. "I had always felt I needed to learn to swim better to do that, but I don’t!"

Harwood is no stranger to technology, she worked at IBM for 30 years, but she says there's not much to it. She explained you don't have to understand how it works to enjoy it.

"VR provides the technology, you just figure out what's of interest to you," she said.

Community Life Director Missy Paschke-Wood said it's been a really popular program, in part because of the new doors its opening for seniors who might not travel the same way they used to.

"You could go there, but you're not going to climb to the very top of the temple," she explained. "So this lets you do those things."

Beyond getting to experience their own adventure, Susan says virtual reality has really helped her connect with the people around her. What she likes best, is the immersive way it lets them share where they've traveled.

"When they come back and say, 'Gee, I took several tours of Paris, and I saw this part of this,' " Susan said. "And people say, 'I wish I could go.' Well, they can go!"

Many of them are now getting new life experiences, even when they've already had a lifetime of them.

"If you develop a certain curiosity, it's limitless," Susan said. "It’ll feed itself."

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.