News & Events

The power of virtual reality

June 25, 2018

OCAV is partnering with researchers from La Trobe University and industry specialists Champagne Soda to investigate the potential role virtual reality (VR) might play in the wellbeing of older Victorians.

The partnership follows a successful trial with residents at Liscombe House who were treated to a virtual reality underwater experience.

Tim Scott, Chief Operating Officer, said: “The reactions from those who took part was astonishing. One resident said she had all her childhood memories come flooding back about her fisherman father, reminding her of the times she used to have with him at sea.”

“We have always known the power of virtual reality, and we can now see how it is going to play a huge part in our programs that focus on our residents’ care, health and wellbeing. We have been considering virtual reality for a while, and now have the right team in place,” he said.

Research will be led by Dr Raelene Wilding from La Trobe University, who is also working with OCAV residents in Rushall Park and Currie Park on WInternet, a social media program funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council. Dr Wilding has an interest in technology and its ability to break down social isolation faced by older people.

The technology will be delivered, along with training, by Champagne Soda. Brooke Smith, one of the owners, said the company was known for its use of VR in the property world but had become aware of the ability of the technology to jog older people’s memories.

“To see a response in the people living with dementia when they put on the headset for the first time, and then to see how the experience comforted and calmed them was extraordinary,” she said.

The research will focus on three main questions: can we improve health and wellbeing using VR? Is VR useful as a stimulus for interaction? How does VR, if at all, reduce social isolation if carried out with family/friends?

Dr Wilding said that most research using VR was driven by theories of engaging memory therapy with physical activity, and was highly clinical.

“Our difference will be that we will focus on the benefits that VR may bring to social interaction for all participants, not just people living with dementia,” Dr Wilding said.

The finer details are still being worked upon but the emphasis will be co-designing VR experiences with residents, families, carers and staff.

Funding is being sought for the project.

Volunteering is important to Deb, enabling her to contribute in the aged care sector. “I love it when the residents get downright cheeky. I love it when we get a bit too loud with laughing."

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