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Virtual reality in aged care: the future is now

2018-07-01 Virtual reality in aged care.hero.jpg

Bolton Clarke is expanding its work in the application of virtual reality technology into Residential Aged Care with a pilot that aims to improve resident experience and provide training opportunities for staff working with residents with dementia.

Residents and staff at Milford Grangeat Eastern Heights, Queensland were among the first to participate in the pilot program.

Led by Bolton Clarke’s Behavioral Support Specialist Elisabeth Elder, the pilot program aims to support residents and educate employees using a variety of virtual reality experiences.

Participants are immersed in a simulated environment using a head-mounted display and tracking system that allows them to engage in virtual experiences.

Bolton Clarke’s At Home Support team in Victoria is already using the technology to support pain and anxiety management during wound dressing procedures. 

Clients and residents can be taken on a journey to cities overseas, to the tops of mountains or wide open countryside and in this case, to the ocean to swim with dolphins.

“The virtual reality experiences are particularly useful for residents with dementia as they can provide an experience that they may not have had, or take them back to a place they visited when they were younger,” said Elisabeth.

Personal Carer Kerry Mapley watched Milford Grange resident, Russell, experience the virtual reality dolphin swim.

“It was obvious he enjoyed it,” said Kerry. “He was pointing at the dolphins and had a smile on his face.”

Kerry was also one of the first to try the employee experience, which takes the participant through a simulation depicting what it is like to live with dementia.

The simulation takes the viewer through a series of ‘everyday’ scenarios, such as choosing clothes from a wardrobe.

In response to the experience Kerry said, “it was way too dark for me and made me feel like I was in a cave, enclosed. When I came to picking clothes, it felt like they were moving at me, and there were too many. I didn’t even want to look at the wardrobe. It made me feel unbalanced and unsteady, and I wanted to sit down.”

“Just focusing on the virtual reality imagery, looking around the room, I had to concentrate and that was without any noise. It would be much harder if there was to be noise.”Kerry said she would draw on the experience when working with residents with dementia.

Originally developed by the video gaming industry, virtual reality intervention has emerged in the clinical area as an effective intervention and training method.

Bolton Clarke will be continuing its pilot over coming months, evaluating not only what works but also what doesn’t, to inform future use of the technology across the organisation and the sector. Additionally, the organisation has recently acquired its own virtual reality camera which will be used to create tailored experiences.