Elderly people who are unable to get out and about could once again have the experience of going for a walk in nature. The use of virtual reality to transport individuals to other places is nothing new, but using it for those who are no longer mobile is an exciting prospect.
Patients at a hospice in Leicester were shown a 360-degree video of local beauty spot, which they may well have visited many times in earlier life. The virtual reality glasses allowed them to see the landscape of Bradgate Park and relive happy memories with family and friends.
John Lee is a patient at the LOROS hospice and has motor neurone disease (MND), which impairs his ability to walk. He was among the people who were offered the opportunity to use the virtual reality technology to help him see beyond his common surroundings.
He said: “You soon relax, it’s just like you’re there. I loved it. I nearly waved at somebody as they walked past. Since being diagnosed with MND, we can get out but I can’t spend a lot of time out of the wheelchair, so being able to have these experiences through the glasses is really good. It’s almost as good as the real thing.”
The footage of Bradgate Park was specially commissioned by the hospice for use in the headsets, but it is hoping to expand the project further. There is no reason why other organisations, including care homes could not have films made of local areas for use in the same way.
Patient wellbeing and mental health are hugely important and even something as simple as bringing a nearby natural setting to the elderly could have big benefits. Taking a walk is well-known to improve the mood and could help those with physical conditions to be more positive.
The cognitive effects of seemingly returning to a place they know well could also lead to improvements and boost conversations. Advances in technology make so many options, such as virtual technology headsets, a possibility in the care of older people.
John Knight, chief executive at the hospice, said: “We recognise that some of our patients are often restricted to where they can go due to their illness, so we wanted to help give them the opportunity to still enjoy life wider than their restrictions allow, through virtual reality.”
Research has found that it takes just 20 seconds for the brain to become accustomed to the virtual world. After that, it is as if the world is real for the headset user, making it feel that the experience is actually happening to them and therefore giving many of the benefits they would obtain from being in the location in real life.