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Seniors tick off 'bucket list' with VR technology

News Corp Australia

"OH, that's beautiful."

"Look at all the trees"

"My goodness."

The reactions of the elderly as they are taken on a virtual journey to tick off some of their unfulfilled dreams are priceless.

It took me back to the first time I put a virtual reality headset on my father-in-law.

He couldn't believe what he was seeing - the fact that as he turned his head in every direction, up, down and sideways, he was greeted with new scenes.

 Fast forward a few years, and the same man is among many now confined to the surrounds of a nursing home, apart from the times when we take him out for coffee or lunch.

Imagine if we could offer people like that more experiences of life - without having to travel.

Samsung Electronics Australia is doing just that as part of a pilot program visiting Uniting aged care homes to encourage residents to tick off their bucket lists through immersive VR experiences.

The partnership aims to evaluate how VR technology can help offer positive wellbeing, reduce isolation and support social integration for both age care and dementia patients.

Residents at each home will be able select an experience from their personal 'bucket list' that they have yet to achieve, with particular emphasis on experiences they have longed for or did not think possible.

Samsung will then source virtual reality content that responds to their request for them to enjoy.

For James Hadley, it was visiting Vancouver, his hometown, where he hasn't been since arriving in Australia.

Stephen Cusack wanted to go on a space craft, orbiting Earth, as well as going to the Grand Canyon.

Don Jackson wanted a walk among the Canadian Redwood forests, which he has never been able to visit.

Don Jackson experience virtual reality for the first time.
Don Jackson experience virtual reality for the first time.

Nick Brennan, Associate Professor of the Uniting War Memorial Hospital, said: "Using virtual reality technology in this way can give dementia residents and older Australians new adventures which they could not otherwise achieve due to mobility or health problems.

"Studies suggest that virtual reality can have a therapeutic effect and stimulate the brain. Providing new adventures for these patients can help to reduce stress and boredom and creates new ways for them to interact with their peers."

As part of this pilot, carers at Uniting will also be able use Samsung VR technology to experience a realistic day in the life of a resident with dementia.

By experiencing the day-to-day life of a dementia patient, Uniting and Samsung hope to give their carers a deeper understanding of the stress, confusion and disorientation that residents experience so carers can improve their care plans and how they interact and engage with these residents.

 

VIRTUAL BUCKET LIST: Uniting's Tracey Burton with resident James Hadley.
VIRTUAL BUCKET LIST: Uniting's Tracey Burton with resident James Hadley. Andrew Baker

 

"Uniting has seen how new and emerging technologies can give back independence to our residents,'' Tracey Burton, executive director of Uniting, said.

"Together we believe we can brighten many residents' days and fulfil unlived dreams."

Ms Burton said Uniting  teams had a strong focus on spending the time to get to know each resident.

"Each home has a Lifestyle Manager who learns what every resident enjoys, and plans activities accordingly. Our model provides more control and flexibility to our residents."

Uniting resident Stephen Cusack virtually orbits the earth on International Space Station.
Uniting resident Stephen Cusack virtually orbits the earth on International Space Station.

 

The pilot program was created following an immersive virtual reality experience provided by Samsung in January 2018.

Uniting Mirinjani resident, Berenice Benson held a long-term dream to visit New York and meet a New York police officer.

Her dream became a reality and since her experience, staff have reported that Berenice is generally chattier with other residents and brightens up completely when asked to talk about the event.

James Hadley comes to the end of his VR experience.
James Hadley comes to the end of his VR experience. Andrew Baker Photographer

Five pilot sites for the VR experience program include:

• Annesley House in Haberfield, NSW;
• Uniting Wontama in Orange, NSW;
• Uniting Caroona Jarman in Goonellabah, NSW;
• Uniting Amala in Gordon, ACT; and
• Uniting Bowden Brae Gardens in Normanhurst, NSW.

Samsung's VR headsets with controllers sell for less than $200.