Integrating virtual reality into aged care centres — helping residents escape the four walls of their rooms and tick off bucket list items — has been described a “game-changer”.
With COVID isolating residents over the past two years, a trial program led by the QUT’s Design Lab has been trialled in three aged care centres.
Now the university is expanding the project into Victoria, and has developed an online tool kit to help any aged care centres wanting to give it a go.
Ninety-six-year-old Jane Stoneman, who lives in the dementia community at the Arcare Aged Care Centre in Pimpama, has used the technology to travel back to London and Germany, places she used to visit when she was a young 20-year-old.
It reminded her of a time she travelled with three friends across Europe, in an old black cab.
“It’s a 1937 Austin … that’s the car … and it was a legal taxi, but we did get hailed a lot,” she laughed.
“It’s very easy to do. Germany was a very nice place to go, they have lots of nice shops, really lovely.”
Arcare’s residence manager Vicki Cain said the technology was a “game-changer”.
“Connecting with the outside world, reminiscing certain things like going on a London bus tour, for people who are English or who have travelled.
“It takes them away from that [feeling of being anxious] and takes them somewhere nice.”
The project was the result of a philanthropy grant, with a particular focus on helping residents escape isolation as a result of the pandemic.
“Actually right now virtual reality … people don’t use it all that often, so it’s wonderful to have an older person to say ‘I’ve done something that you haven’t done’,” QUT Design Lab’s Yvonne Miller said.
“If we can help them fulfil some last wishes and to enjoy some last moments, then it’s a really great privilege.”
Ms Cain said their particular centre was always looking for innovative ways to help residents, but really embraced the technology because of COVID.
“People were feeling isolated, we weren’t allowed to have entertainers come in, families couldn’t take residents out,” she said.
She said it helped residents with physical strength and mobility too.
“We had one lady who was very close to end of life, and through the use of VR she’s actually now back on her feet, back walking,” she said.
Project coordinator Leonie Sanderson hoped more centres could introduce the technology using the newly-developed toolkit, and said it could be tailored to individual needs of residents.
“Sometimes they do it in groups, sometimes they do it one-to-one, sometimes they do it in a family group, which is really fantastic,” she said.
“They can cast it to the TV so everyone can kind of watch what somebody’s doing on VR so it makes it a really social experience.
“You feel like you’re ballooning over the Maasai Mara, you feel like you’re ballooning over the Swiss Alps … and there was one older gentleman who was trying to hold onto the basket and peer over the edge.
“It just gave people — who’d pretty much been in lockdown or isolated from family and friends that sense of still being able to enjoy the world, and maybe at the age of 94 to do something they had never done before.”
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