Researching virtual experiences for real benefits
A NEW study in residential aged care at Barwon Health is investigating the social benefits of virtual reality experiences for people living with mild dementia.
The collaboration between Barwon Health, Deakin University and SilVR Adventures aims to address the loneliness and social isolation that challenges many people living in residential aged care, particularly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deakin researcher Dr Vanessa Watkins said the VR experiences had been selected specifically for older people, offering residents at Barwon Health’s Alan David Lodge and Wallace Lodge a wide variety of virtual tours to places that would be difficult to visit, such as Ireland’s countryside, the Eiffel Tower, or familiar Australian landmarks.
“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,” she said.
“Reminiscing and story sharing activities have been shown to have a positive impact on those living with mild dementia, so this project is implementing VR experiences and evaluating benefits for residential aged care residents.”
Alan David Lodge lifestyle officer Janette Purcell said residents enjoyed using the sessions to engage socially, as well as venture into virtual worlds for unique experiences.
“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,” she said.
“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.
“We’re working with Deakin University researchers from the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the School of Engineering to assist and learn enough that we can implement it into the weekly program here, after the research program has finished.”
Alan David Lodge resident Ron Pettifer said he was impressed with the technology since learning to use it.
“You feel as if you’re there,” he said.
“It's really good the way it tricks your senses. I thought it was astounding the first time I did it, seeing sights around the world."
With funding support from Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation Australia (ARIIA), the research will be completed and evaluated later this year, including a post-participation survey, and interviews that explore residents’ experiences and perceptions of VR technology use.
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