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Virtual reality can be good for your health

October 4, 2019

A Virtual Reality research project involving OCAV’s Currie Park residents in Euroa and La Trobe University in Bundoora has found that the technology can improve well being for older people, particularly those in isolated areas and retirement villages.

The project, Virtual Reality and the social well-being of older adults in rural Australia, was conducted by Raelene Wilding and Zoë Robertson, from La Trobe University’s Department of Social Inquiry. The research project followed a successful trial with residents at Liscombe House, OCAV’s aged-care facility, who were treated to a virtual reality underwater experience.

In the beginning Currie Park participants were keen to ‘see the world ‘virtually’, and experienced tours of famous world cities, exploring the natural environment or taking part in a cultural experience, such as a museum, concert or musical. Within a few weeks some participants requested more experiences such as a thrilling high-speed descent on a luge down a mountain road. Participants who selected a thrilling experience often reported that they did so in order to shift into a more energetic mood and ‘have fun’.

Many VR experiences provided opportunities for participants to share their existing knowledge and to discover new knowledge.

“Contrary to assumptions that virtual reality technologies are an individualistic pursuit, we discovered that Virtual Reality enabled participants to form strong social connections. During the VR sessions, participants bonded over their experiences of the content. They frequently discussed their experiences, including sharing information and techniques for engaging with the technologies. The VR experience also became a catalyst via which the participants shared with each other stories of their families, past memories and personal histories,” according to the research report.

The research, supported by a grant from Ian Currie Rollo Estate Foundation’s Caring for Rural Australians program, had four key aims:
– To provide residents with an opportunity to engage with a novel recreational experience.
– To gain insight into the effectiveness of VR technologies to support in the social engagement of older people.
– To create a preliminary co-design environment to identify improvements that could be introduced to future VR technologies designed specifically for people aged 65+ living in rural areas.
– To evaluate the potential for VR to enhance social relationships and engagement of old Australians living in retirement village and assisted living contexts.

A series of VR sessions from March to September this year were conducted with the enthusiastic group of Currie Park residents. The four VR technologies, Kiosk, PlayStation, Oculus Go and Smartphone Headsets and over 50 experiences were tried and tested by participants.

The research found that VR technologies can positively contribute to the lives of people living in retirement village and assisted living settings, supporting their personal relationships, community connections and societal engagement.

“VR is an accessible shared activity for assisted living and independent living residents to enjoy together; and, importantly, can accommodate for different mobility requirements, interests and preferences,” the report found.

Recommendations from the report, include:
·       For older adults and their families and communities: VR is a worthwhile activity for older adults of all abilities and interests, enabling relatively easy access to new, stimulating and challenging activities. We recommend that all older adults explore the potential to create or join a club of VR users to enhance their wellbeing.
·       For aged care providers: This project model has been successful in making a positive impact of the lives of residents living in retirement village settings. We suggest that aged care providers explore opportunities to provide opportunities for older adults to use and explore the potential of VR for relaxation, social engagement and cognitive stimulation.
·       For technology developers: This project demonstrates that there is a strong appetite for new technologies amongst older populations and that there are many existing tools and experiences that are appropriate for use by older adults. However, there is an opportunity to enhance design of equipment to meet the needs of older adults, including both their physical needs and experiences that support their interests. Commitment to testing designs with older adults would assist in addressing this gap.
·       For future research: Further research is required to identify and develop experiences and equipment that meets the needs of older adults, and to explore new models of VR delivery and social engagement that can be run by older adults for older adults.

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