Taking seniors on dream journeys

Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality offers virtual and augmented reality

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VIRTUAL REALITY: A whole new world is opening up for seniors who are being transported on wonderful journeys.

VIRTUAL REALITY: A whole new world is opening up for seniors who are being transported on wonderful journeys.

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Virtual reality technology is opening a new world for seniors who are being transported on wonderful journeys.

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A toolkit to help aged care facilities integrate virtual reality into the lives of residents has been launched to transport seniors to incredible places, evoke memories, and bring joy.

It's an outcome of a QUT Design Lab-led trial conducted in aged care facilities in Queensland and Victoria which gave people the chance to revisit their past and explore new worlds or activities using the technology.

Chief investigator Professor Evonne Miller said the Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality (VR) project was a collaboration between researchers from QUT, Griffith University, the University of Melbourne and La Trobe. It was funded by a philanthropic research grant from Facebook.

"COVID-19 has been especially hard on people in aged care. One way to improve their lives is to use technology like virtual and augmented reality, which allows them to leave the four walls of their home," Professor Miller said.

"We integrated VR technologies into three Australian aged care facilities to find ways of better socially connecting residents with each other, staff and their families during this pandemic; and to provide older aged care residents with creative, novel and intellectually-stimulating leisure activities - ensuring daily life is exciting, rather than mundane and monotonous.

"VR can take them back to their honeymoon, let them reconnect to something important from their past or travel to a country they always wanted to visit. They can sky-dive, ride a gondola through Venice, sail a yacht and so much more. The possibilities are limitless and overcome mobility and health problems."

Prof Miller said the project had produced a Transformational Toolkit as part of The Big Reach, presented at QUT by The Big Anxiety Qld.

Leonie Sanderson, a visiting fellow with the QUT School of Design and director of Brisbane-based The Ageing Revolution, was VR Project Manager for Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality (VR).

She said the Transformational Toolkit was freely available online and outlined how to implement VR into aged care. It includes advice on cost of headsets, how to get started, where to find apps, safety assessments and physical space requirements.

"It can cost as little as $600 to get the right VR headsets with storage cases and adjustable head straps. We recommend aged care facilities set themselves up with at least two or more headsets so multiple residents can enjoy the experience at the same time," Ms Sanderson said.

"To integrate VR into aged care needs support from senior management and a staff champion but it is very doable, and the effort is worth the investment of time and money. Our trials produced levels of happiness and resulted in stories being shared and people feeling more valued and engaged."

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