It takes a village: how Summerset NZ is changing the lives of their residents, one virtual reality session at a time

Summerset DRThs

Human connection, in all forms, has always been known to be beneficial to our overall health and well-being. By nature, we need those moments, no matter how mundane they may seem, to fill our cups throughout the day. The pandemic has brought to light just how essential daily interactions are to our lives, and for one of New Zealand’s leading retirement village operators, Summerset, this has been at the forefront of their recent experiences.

We sat down with Christina and Stephanie, two of the many Divisional Recreational Therapists (DRThs) at Summerset who keep their residents engaged through various media. They have recently, however, discovered that some of these activities rate higher than others, and the clients they speak of may not be the audience you would expect.

When asked who they felt really took most away from each virtual reality (VR) session, Christina answered:

“I found that those who really benefited from the SilVR Adventures virtual reality sessions are most often residents with a visual or hearing impairment, as well as residents who do not wish to engage in big groups. Residents find using VR meaningful, and they are always looking forward to it.”

She went on to share how residents who prefer to keep to themselves, those who often opt to stay in the comfort of their own rooms, felt encouraged to go out because they were keen to engage in the virtual reality sessions. This was especially true for newer residents who hadn’t yet formed connections within the villages; she said that the experiences they went on virtually helped to forge new relationships among the residents.

Stephanie, who works in the memory care branch of Summerset, also had her own stories to share:

“I support the residents to enjoy virtual reality sessions once a week, and they really relate to it. They’ve traveled the world, so they have fun memories of their times in Egypt or Australia, and they just love it. A resident living with dementia can easily express positive feedback through facial expression. Our residents are always happy to have experiences again, and afterwards they will share with their families about the places they have recently traveled too. Families will ask me ‘what is this?’, and then we offer families to come and join a shared adventure too.”

Kirsty and Orquidea sharing their first VR experience with a trip to South America

Kirsty and Orquidea sharing their first VR experience with a trip to South America

Stephanie adds that when the family members have been able to join the residents on travel adventures, it has been extremely rewarding for them – it is especially good for those in memory care, as they are able to reminisce on happy memories while reliving new ones in the present.

The partnership with SilVR Adventures began in 2022 and has been championed by Kirsty Johnson, Programme Activities Lead and Orquidea Tamayo Mortera, National Diversional Therapist at Summerset, and President of The New Zealand Society of Diversional & Recreational Therapists Inc.

“Enriching a senior’s quality of life is one of the most meaningful jobs there is in my personal and professional point of view. Introducing technology that has the power to make our jobs more purposeful, but at the same time to make such a positively impact in a senior life is priceless. SilVR Adventures has proven to be a fantastic piece of technology that can easily enhance residents’ cognitive needs, meet their cultural and spiritual needs through meaningful reminiscence via the tours, support their emotional and mental needs especially for residents with limited mobility, and facilitate joyful experiences in less than 10 Minutes. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be working in partnership with Colin and his team to continue to bring the best of life to our Summerset residents.”
– Orquidea Tamayo Mortera

Before we parted ways with Christina and Stephanie, we asked if there were any other stories they wished to share – anything that may have stood out as being particularly exceptional for one reason or another, and we’re grateful we asked because Christina sure delivered.

She spoke of a resident who was recently widowed; as one would expect, she preferred solitude and due to her grief, found it a struggle to find the desire to participate in recreational programmes set out for their village.

With a lot of gentle, loving coaxing, our heroine resident allowed herself to be taken on a virtual reality session and has since become the village ambassador for all things VR! She began to further engage with her fellow residents but didn’t stop there – inviting her family and allowing connection and engagement back into her life.

What also stunned us is the fact that this woman, who so thoroughly enjoyed every session, was also visually impaired. She struggled with her eyesight daily and yet somehow was joyfully immersed in her virtual travels and adventures.

And what was most touching is the gratitude she expressed towards the DRThs for holding her through her tough moments and guiding her towards finding joy again, in small yet significant pockets in time through these VR experiences.

About Summerset

Summerset is one of New Zealand’s leading retirement village operators, and more than 7,000 residents call Summerset home. We focus on bringing the best of life to our residents, and we offer a continuum of care to provide peace of mind should the care needs of residents change. For more information, visit:

You can hear more from Orquidea talking about the importance of meaningful activities in a special episode of the Aged Care Enrichment podcast here:

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