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Exciting VR project allowing older persons to revisit their past and explore new worlds

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A collaboration between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Design Lab, Griffith University, the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University has unveiled the transformative power of integrating virtual reality (VR) in aged care settings.

Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality (VR), a research project funded by a Meta (Facebook) philanthropic research grant, investigated aged care residents’, carers’ and families’ experiences as they engaged with VR headsets in their facilities over 2021 and the early months of 2022.

Professor Evonne Miller, chief investigator and director of the QUT Design Lab, says that such technology has given older persons the opportunity to revisit their past and explore new worlds or activities.

“COVID-19 has been especially hard on people in aged care. One way to improve their lives is to use technology like virtual and augmented reality, which allows them to leave the four walls of their home.”

Professor Evonne Miller, director of the QUT Design Lab, says that virtual reality headsets are a positive addition to aged care, helping residents to escape and explore even when they are physically incapable of leaving their facility.

The project installed the technologies in three aged care facilities in Queensland and Victoria, with Miller noting positive outcomes on resident mental health and overall wellbeing from all participating sites.

“We integrated VR technologies into three Australian aged care facilities to find ways of better socially connecting residents with each other, staff and their families during this pandemic; and to provide older aged care residents with creative, novel and intellectually-stimulating leisure activities – ensuring daily life is exciting, rather than mundane and monotonous.

“VR can take them back to their honeymoon, let them reconnect to something important from their past or travel to a country they always wanted to visit.

“They can sky-dive, ride a gondola through Venice, sail a yacht and so much more.

“The possibilities are limitless and overcome mobility and health problems.”

An anonymous activity manager involved in the project noted that whilst it was a bit tricky in the beginning to get a grasp on how to use the technology, the activity had an incredibly positive impact on residents.

“I ran a session all by myself and it was a bit hard but still could manage to take Heather to Alaska, Keith on a helicopter and Rita to Africa.

“It was a short session, but I had five residents that attended. New people want to give it a go, so I think it’s going well.”

As part of the project’s final reporting, the research team have developed a Transformational Toolkit, which will be used to advise aged care facilities on how they can integrate such technology in their own facilities.

Leonie Sanderson, a visiting fellow with the QUT School of Design and the research’s VR project manager, says that the toolkit includes advice on cost of headsets, how to get started, where to find apps, safety assessments and physical space requirements.

“It can cost as little as $600 to get the right VR headsets with storage cases and adjustable head straps.

“We recommend aged care facilities set themselves up with at least two or more headsets so multiple residents can enjoy the experience at the same time.”

Sanderson notes that it make take some convincing of senior management to invest in such cutting edge approaches to recreation.

“… But it is very doable, and the effort is worth the investment of time and money.

“Our trials produced levels of happiness and resulted in stories being shared and people feeling more valued and engaged.”

The launch of the toolkit will happen as part of The Big Reach, a two day program running from May 26-27 at QUT, which explores creative approaches to tackling the mental health crisis.

It is a preliminary offshoot of the The Big Anxiety, Australia’s national mental health and arts festival, that will run from September 24 to October 15 in Melbourne 2022.  

To find out more about the project and to access further resources, follow this link.

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