Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemicLiving in a nursing home was difficult. The risk of Covid disease, isolation from friends and family, and staff shortages are all problems that have regularly entered the news cycle.
An Australian research team is experimenting with an unusual system that won’t fix any of these institutional problems, but could make nursing homes more interesting for residents – virtual reality (VR) experiences.
“I thought it was cool,” says John Hackwood, who lives at Arcare Pimpama in Queensland. “It really felt like I was swimming with dolphins.”
While there has been previous research looking at whether virtual reality in elderly care It can reduce apathy and improve moodand to which Potential problems to be overcomeresearchers are working on Turning elderly care into virtual reality The project focused on how to integrate nursing homes into virtual reality in general.
“In these COVID times in particular, we have elderly people living in aged care, [and] “They can’t have any visitors, and often they can’t leave,” says Evonne Miller, a researcher in psychology at Queensland University of Technology.
“Now is the perfect time to use things like virtual reality so people can have those experiences without having to leave the four walls of an aged care facility.”
So far, three nursing homes in Queensland have been part of this project, with more in Victoria being pulled back by COVID restrictions but planned for later in the year.
Using a large charitable grant from Meta (the company behind Facebook), the researchers bought the Meta Quest 2 headset, often using free software like Alcove VR, YouTube VR, and even games to give residents a choice about what they might want to do.
Simon Lowe, co-founder of aging revolution A researcher on the ground.
“We had to design the devices so that they were easy to take on and off using a different strap. Then it was basically a mini design process to test it, try again, test again and try again. Especially around people who have different movement issues or different cognitive issues.”
This experience was receptive to many residents, and some said they really enjoyed being able to ride buses around London and Paris, or swim with dolphins.
“The first session we had was at one center, about eight people, and the next session was about 12 people,” says Leonie Sanderson, director of The Aging Revolution.
“People were really excited about going into virtual reality and trying different things. Ninety-year-olds doing skydiving in VR, diving in the Great Barrier Reef, or playing Fruit Ninja. Really, many things.”
The researchers note that no lightheadedness or lightheadedness was reported by residents, although Sanderson notes that this may be due to limiting residents’ use of the machines to about 10 minutes each, before giving them a break and trying another experience.
All three homes were given one of the headphones at the end of the program to attempt to continue the activity without the team. Unfortunately, two of the homes used the speakers a few times over the course of three months.
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“Not as much as I would have liked,” Miller says. “But there have been a lot of issues with COVID and employee illnesses. This means that virtual reality needs to be integrated into the facility’s entertainment programming. [for this to work]. “
One facility – Arcare Pimpama – has adopted the technology, buying more headphones and conducting multiple sessions per week.
This is due in large part to one of the resident managers, Vicki Kane, who has been a champion of technology, especially for those with dementia.
“You can certainly use it successfully for people with dementia — advanced dementia,” she says. “This has been the game-changing factor for me.”
Hackwood is a dementia resident in Pimpama who has only good things to say about virtual reality systems. She remembered having a great time swimming with the dolphins, but Cain had to remind her that she had had multiple experiences, including a bus trip through London.
“Some people with advanced dementia may not be able to manipulate the controls, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t continue with the experiment,” Cain says.
“Relatives of people with advanced dementia are shocked that they can tolerate headphones and actually enjoy the technology.”
One of the advantages of virtual reality over other forms of technology is that once you are in the environment, it becomes relatively intuitive, even for the elderly. While phones have lock screens, a variety of apps and a keyboard system that isn’t really intuitive, all that’s needed to enjoy the VR headset experience is to look around.
This does not mean, however, that there are no problems yet. The headsets the team used were Meta-branded, which means that each headset must be connected to a Facebook account at the start of the program. This is now turned off, allowing greater access for residents.
Many in the VR community are also concerned about the implications of having a player as big as Meta in the relatively niche VR space, especially if Meta ultimately controls the entire process, from headset to software.
“There were concerns about the data Facebook was collecting as they stormed into virtual reality, and now they’ve shifted their brand to Meta and Metaverse,” Sanderson says.
“It’s a really tough question because if it wasn’t Facebook, it would be TikTok [or another big company]. “
For those in aged care who were part of the program, it was a wonderful experience, albeit a new one. Being able to tell their children and grandchildren that they are using this technology was also a huge advantage. “I really think everyone can benefit from it,” Hackwood says. “It brings the outside in.”