Aged Care

Residents go on virtual adventures with new VR tech

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A new study is exploring an innovative way to improve the quality of life for aged care residents with mild dementia. The research taps into the social benefits of shared virtual reality (VR) experiences.

The collaboration brings together Barwon Health, Deakin University and tech provider SilVR Adventures. It aims to address the pressing issues of loneliness and isolation among elderly people in care – problems exacerbated since the start of the pandemic.

Study lead Dr Vanessa Watkins of Deakin University explained how the project works. Residents at Barwon Health’s two residential facilities – Alan David Lodge and Wallace Lodge – use VR headsets to immerse themselves in virtual group tours. Destinations range from the Irish countryside to the Eiffel Tower to recognisable Australian landmarks. She said the technology allows multiple users to participate together.

As Dr Watkins noted, “We have multiple headsets that can be used simultaneously, so these sessions can be undertaken as a group, enabling social interaction in a shared experience.”

The tailored VR experience is designed specifically for residential aged care residents. More crucially, shared reminiscing activities have proven benefits for mild dementia patients. The study evaluates outcomes to see if VR can enhance the quality of life for participants.

Early results are promising, according to Alan David Lodge’s lifestyle officer Janette Purcell. She said residents eagerly look forward to their weekly virtual adventures. The visual elements showcase both exotic global destinations and nostalgic landmarks from earlier eras.

Purcell added, “The technology shows residents what the world has to offer now, while also allowing them to have visual experiences from the world they remember when they were younger.”

“It’s taken some adjusting as far as the sensation and immersion of VR in a 3D space, but having that ability to look around and see these places has become something residents look forward to.”

The immersive group activities facilitate social bonding. One resident, Ron Pettifer, described: “You feel as if you’re there. It’s really good the way it tricks your senses.”

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