Virtual reality brings new experiences to people in residential aged care

Older couple experiencing virtual reality
Virtual reality provides a simulated experience

People in aged care have little chance to get out and see the wider world, but with virtual reality (VR) they can experience the pleasures of travel, exploring and enjoying nature and the built environment all over the world.

Virtual reality provides a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Participants wear a lightweight helmet which provides the wearer with 360° views of ever changing scenes. Wearers become immersed in the experience and can easily believe they are in the place or situation where the program was made.

Increasingly people only enter residential aged care at the later stages of their lives when they are frail or suffering from dementia. Providing entertainment, socialisation and appropriate therapy can be a major problem.

Technology for Ageing & Disability (TADWA) is a Bassendean-based not-for-profit enterprise working to improve the lives of disabled and elderly people of Western Australian since 1984. It has signed up a partnership with MyndVR, the premier provider of virtual reality (VR) solutions for senior living communities in the United States to provide a similar service to aged care homes all around Australia. 

TADWA will be implementing MyndVR’s state-of-the-art VR platform in their mission to help older people, people with disabilities, and their carers do what is important to them. 

VR allows occupational therapists and technicians to utilise customised headsets, care tablets, and MyndVR’s expansive content library powered by Littlstar, a global content network dedicated to virtual reality.

Mike Hamilton, TADWA manager sales and partnerships, said VR is a game changer. Modern hardware with lightweight helmets are easy for people to use in residential aged care.

Modern virtual reality doesn’t need a large computer and wiring. Just a tablet computer and headset controlled by WiFi and Bluetooth. Each tablet controls up to five masks simultaneously.

Steve Pretzel, CEO of TADWA, said VR would be used for recreation by people who can no longer get out and experience things.

“At TADWA, our focus is on significantly improving the quality of life of our clients, their caregivers, and families through compassion, technological excellence, and innovation.

“Age and disability should not define a person’s future or detract from leading a meaningful life. When physical mobility is limited, virtual reality can provide a sense of exploration, adventure, and fun. 

“The MyndVR system provides great content as well as great control functionality. With the benefits of VR becoming better understood, we see a huge opportunity for families and particularly residential care facilities to reduce the impacts of isolation and improve the quality of life for residents.” 

“It might be something on seniors’ bucket list that they will never be realistically able to do. VR gives the next best possible experience to actually being there.”

But VR is not just for entertainment.

“VR also provides a more realistic aid to socialising with friends and family members than applications such as Facetime and Zoom. It makes users feel part of the family. It is almost as good as being there.

“There are exercise modules that help participants retain their mobility and strength.

“VR can also provide distraction to help alleviate anxiety and confusion for people with dementia.”

It will take users back to family events, seashore, forest or wilderness environments and help them escape the noise and activity of aged care homes.

“We plan to start with easy modules and move on to harder applications,” he said.

Mr Hamilton said we want to continue maximise interaction between residents themselves and their families, to revitalise them through remembered family connections and filter out any inappropriate content which might be disturbing to them.

MyndVR initially produced content for Americans but now meets the content needs of a world-wide audience. It produces five or six new programs every month with content depending the feedback they receive.

TADWA also plans to produce local content, for example visits to Fremantle markets or Perth beaches.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.