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Virtual world offers therapeutic remedy to isolation

Monday, 28 June 2021

BARWON Health’s palliative care virtual reality (VR) program has expanded to bring the immersive therapy to more patients in the community.

VR has been utilised as a form of diversion therapy at Barwon Health since 2019, with volunteers first learning to use the technology with patients.

Palliative Care program manager Jacqui White said COVID-19 had interrupted a program partnership with the City of Greater Geelong Libraries, encouraging staff to source some healthcare-specific VR headsets of its own to continue the program independently.

“We’re been working hard to get staff engaged with VR, with champions for each area of palliative care as we look at how can we can embed this technology within our program,” she said.

“People have been so isolated over the past year and this therapeutic intervention has made a huge difference to bridging that gap and thinking about therapy in different ways.

“Most of our patients are too unwell to travel, even without travel restrictions in place, so VR experiences can help meet the need for people to cross destinations off their bucket list, whether they have places they always wanted to go, or they want to return to a place from their childhood.”

She said palliative care patient Leonard Walsh, a former engineer, recently enjoyed a VR experience taking him to a space station.

“Len talked a lot about watching the moon landing and a lot of memories of space travel moments.

“On the day of his VR experience, he was energised and engaged and it makes such a difference to quality of life.

“Other patients might take a VR trip to Paris and we’ll bring them some French food to go along with the experience, as part of our Have a Go initiative.

“We’re excited by this technology and also looking at how it can be used to manage things like anxiety and pain, at a psychological and mindfulness level.”

The device’s library currently has 18 immersive options, including city tours, wildlife and space experiences.