Virtual Reality for Carers
Care providers and family carers alike are embracing virtual reality. For carers VR can provide an invaluable tool for connecting with a loved one, or delivering a meaningful experience.
The following feature article originally appeared in the September 2021 edition of Australian Carer’s Guide.
What is virtual reality and why are aged care providers embracing it?
If you’ve been looking around at new ways to support your residents, chances are you’ve heard the words “virtual reality” being offered as a new idea. Maybe you’ve even seen pictures of people wearing headsets and waving their arms about.
But what is virtual reality, or VR, and why is it making such an impact in the aged care space?
Immersive beyond belief
Virtual reality is a simulated environment that looks and feels incredibly realistic. A key tool for using VR is the headset. Which allows you to explore this digital space by looking up, down and all around you. Unlike a computer or tablet which has a fixed field view, virtual reality adapts to your head movements. This means it immerses you in a rich 360-degree, 3D environment.
Basically, putting on a virtual reality headset feels like stepping into a completely different world. But the big question is, what can you do in this immersive virtual space?
The impossible becomes possible
Anything you can imagine! For the adrenaline seekers how about skydiving? Swimming with dolphins? Or racing in an F1 car? For those looking for a calmer escape maybe chilling out on the beach? Exploring a tropical rain forest? Or visiting a museum?
The technology is limitless, and it can even allow us to experience things that are impossible. A trip to mars perhaps? Or walking around the interior of the Titanic? VR can make that happen too.
That all sounds fun, but we’re talking about older adults here. Why would care providers be so keen to take care recipients out of the four walls of a facility (virtually)?
With clinical benefits
The answer lies in research. And whilst these experiences are certainly fun for all ages – they’re anything but frivolous.
Virtual reality experiences have been shown to improve the quality of life in older adults.
Participants in an American study were “less socially isolated… less likely to show signs of depression”. And were also “feeling better about their overall well-being”. Another study from Taiwan revealed that VR “can provide older adults with the confidence to get involved in social activities”.
So, it’s clear that VR can have a range of positive impacts on care recipients. But the most exciting benefits of all,are linked to who we are as individuals.
A personal journey
Imagine being able to visit a childhood home. A church you were married in, or a place you went on holidays with your family? For those of us born overseas, what about taking a journey back? Maybe experience familiar sights and sounds, and reconnect with your culture? What about a faith-based pilgrimage or personal spiritual practice?
VR is at its best when it’s partnered with a deep understanding of the individual and what’s important to them. And that’s how innovative care providers are getting the most out of VR.
By building upon their strong connections with the individual, carers can deliver meaningful personalised experiences. Which leverage the power of VR to connect to identity.
For all walks of life
No matter what stage of life an individual is at, virtual reality may provide engagement, excitement, and an opportunity for connection.
Particularly for those of us supporting a loved one with dementia. As VR has been shown to “positively affect the cognitive and physical functioning of those with mild cognitive impairment or dementia”.
And what could be more important for someone living with dementia, than to reconnect them to their true self, their culture, and their loved ones? Now we’re really pushing the dial with “joy”!
But sometimes what’s important, isn’t a clinical benefit…
Going beyond the clinical
What is immediately apparent when you try on a VR headset is that it’s like magic. Whilst there may be benefits in well-being and cognitive function, it’s an experience to bring wonder, enjoyment, and positive emotions. And this can be supercharged when sharing the same experience in a group VR setting.
Any tool that can help bring significant and measurable joy, happiness, and excitement to the life of care recipients is one that’s worth exploring.
Ultimately, that might be the driving factor in the growing use of VR in the aged care space. That’s a growth that’s led by innovative companies.
Changing Lives through Virtual Reality
Melbourne based virtual reality startup, SilVR Adventures, has been taking care recipients on shared virtual reality experiences since 2019.
They’re providing a turnkey VR solution to care providers across Australia and New Zealand. And they enable care team members to take people with a variety of needs on immersive, group VR experiences.
“Our content focuses on storytelling, emotional journeys and reminiscence therapy”, said Colin Pudsey, CEO of SilVR Adventures. “We want to build engaging and inspiring experiences for older adults, no matter what stage of life they’re at.”
With the largest library of world tours, spiritual journeys, and bucket list events, they’re experimenting with new ways to engage care recipients. “But the real magic”, he says, “happens when the headset comes off.”
Creating meaningful connections
Colin explains that most powerful moments in working with VR are the social connections it stimulates.
“We’ve found that the winning formula is taking people on adventures together. They’ll have an amazing time traveling the world or experiencing something brand new. Then the headsets come off and they’re chatting about where they went, where they want to go to next and sharing memories and stories from the past. It’s incredible to watch!”
And it’s clear that aged care providers agree too, with some around Australia establishing weekly ‘Travel Clubs’. These are a great way to build camaraderie and friendship through shared experience. They can even work across multiple sites.
“We’re super excited to be able to connect up to 40 participants around the world in a shared virtual reality experience. Then have them meet in a digital space afterwards like our virtual café and chat about it”, says Colin.
The ability to link people couldn’t have come at a better time with restrictions and lock downs significantly increasing feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression among our elders.
The future of the technology
Virtual reality has made great strides in the past few years. But it still has an exciting journey ahead. With companies like Facebook and Google making big investments in the space, it’s clear that the technology will continue to grow and develop.
There’s room to grow in the personal care space too. With VR companies pivoting away from residential facilities and, beginning to offer services to be used in home care too, Colin explains:
“So far there’s nothing on offer for people in the home. That’s why SilVR Adventures is thrilled to be launching our home care solution in 2021. We’ll be able to support older adults ageing in place with enhanced connections. And deliver meaningful virtual adventures, in their own home – and that’s something to get excited about.”
A rich and incredible world
As we head towards 2022, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. But whatever happens it’s clear that we need to find new ways to stay connected and engaged. And that couldn’t be truer for those of us receiving care.
Leading aged care providers around Australia are increasingly turning to the immersive power of VR. Because of its strength as a potential tool for reducing isolation, improving wellbeing, and strengthening connections.
Very soon personal carers in the home will be taking this technology for a spin too.