May 23, 2023

Community bands together to give aged care patients access to virtual reality

Screenshot 2023-05-23 130005
Colin Sloth, 71, engaging in the VR experience. [Image: ABC News]

A town in Queensland has come together to bring modern tech into their hospital’s aged care wing. 

The people of Eidsvold, 400 kilometres north-west of Brisbane, helped fund the purchase of a virtual reality (VR) headset that gives aged care clients the liberating opportunity to experience any location around the world from the comfort of their facility.

In a time where funding is tight and Lifestyle Coordinators are few and far among Australian residential aged care facilities, particularly in more remote areas like Eidsvold, VR is proving a means to an end to keep clients moving, stimulated and entertained. 

Eidsvold Hospital Recreation Officer, Debra O’Rourke, told ABC News that taking residents out of the hospital to do something requires about two hours’ worth of travel and that the headset has helped to not only bring the outside world to residents but has encouraged connection and conversation.

“You’re fully immersed into that time and moment. To me that’s the most important thing — the calmness and the immersion, and then when we take them off it sparks that interaction and conversation.”

Eventually, Ms O’Rourke wants to create more personalised experiences to residents by going to the places they used to live and work so they can see how it’s changed. 

The hospital has seven aged care beds to cater for the town’s community of 600 people, a town that has one of the highest proportions of Indigenous residents in Queensland.

One of those beds is occupied by Indigenous elder, Gail Lister, who was able to experience a traditional dance at Uluru for the first time in her life with the VR headset.

Another resident, Colin Sloth, 71, (pictured), used the headset to go to the beach, Bali and Rome. 

Wuli Wuli woman, Robyn Chapman, was a strong advocate to get the headset so that her town’s older people could continue receiving care close to home that included positively stimulating activities. 

“Just imagine yourself up in a room, having nothing … you would go silly,” she also told ABC.

The use of VR in aged care facilities has grown increasingly more common, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw many facilities lock down and limit visitations. 

VR has also been proved to assist aged care workers provide better care to clients with educational VR workshops being used to teach them how to improve dining experiences for older people with dementia.

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