From Paraburdoo to Paris – VR can take the aged anywhere, anytime

When the world is hard to access, it is an extraordinary thing to have it come to you. Yet this is the promise of virtual reality (VR) technology, where participants don portable, wireless headsets with advanced display and audio to be immersed in 3D worlds limited only by the imagination.

For people who are not mobile, suffer dementia or other cognitive decline, VR technology promises access to the world – whether it is visiting a childhood home, watching a concert or theatre production, walking in a forest, scuba diving on a coral reef or walking the streets of Paris. It seems like futuristic technology yet it is already possible to provide a pathway to a greatly expanded world, literally from the comfort of an armchair or bed.

While VR has been around for some time, its potential in residential aged care is a comparatively new and exciting prospect, with emerging evidence that correct use of the technology can alleviate stress and anxiety, improve communication, reduce social isolation and even inspire movement. It has been successfully used as part of rehabilitation programs for people who have suffered a stroke or injury, with users prompted through certain movements as part of their therapy in 3D settings that engage and inspire them.

For example, researchers have found VR-based training is more effective than conventional therapy in improving balance and gait in patients recovering from stroke. They found that within virtual environments, it is possible to develop repetitive and personalised motor training that maximises motor learning. They also found that for frail people, being immersed in engaging and enriching environments helps them to repeat exercises with more energy and for longer periods of time – vital outcomes that reinforce learning and rebuild muscle memory. VR can also guide users with cognitive impairment through programs that help improve neural pathways in the brain – testing problem-solving skills and offering challenges that are stimulating and fun. VR technology is also being used as a preventative tool, helping the elderly to retain the skills they have but are at risk of losing when they move into residential care. Importantly, these skills can be reinforced in a safe, supportive and controlled environment.

It is also the perfect digital training platform for residential aged care sector carers and practitioners as multiple users can access the same piece of learning content together. Nursing staff have reported how powerful it is to participate in training programs that replicate the experience of dementia, giving them new insight and empathy. This insight also acts as a guide to make simple changes in the management of their patients that allow them to carry out day-to-day tasks, increase independence and reduce frustration.

While VR technology promises much, the key to its success lies in ease of use for both staff and aged care residents. It needs to be portable, involve minimal set-up and be simple to navigate. Done well, it allows the carers to get on with the job of caring with a simple, portable, experiential device in their toolkit.

Stott Hoare is set to pioneer the use of VR technology in Western Australia, partnering with the residential aged care sector to deliver business and technology solutions that work. This is technology that supports a workforce that is already engaged in a busy and demanding industry – technology that aims to reduce the complexity of working in aged care, not add to it. Stott Hoare, partnering with technology giants Lenovo, has the expertise to support and manage VR devices, provide back-end advice and viable and cost effective options to industry.

If you are an aged care provider with an eye to the future, VR technology provides endless possibilities for your staff and residents. Being able to offer a diversity of experience also promises to challenge some of the long-held and common assumptions about residential aged care – that for the very elderly and infirm it can be a passive experience of reduced opportunities and social isolation. The future of residential aged care is positive and exciting, with a whole host of new technologies in transport, hospitality, robotics and telehealth set to transform the sector. Providers who embrace this future technology will no doubt have a major edge in supporting both their staff and residents, positioning themselves as forward-thinking – actively looking to retain a competitive edge and be a provider of choice.

Stott Hoare is ready to talk to you about the possibilities of VR technology in aged care. Contact us to discuss the possibilities. The reality is here and now.

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