Back to the future

| June 17, 2022

A toolkit to help aged care facilities integrate virtual reality into the lives of residents has been released. It’s the product of a QUT Design Lab-led trial conducted in aged care facilities in Queensland and Victoria which gave people the chance to revisit their past and explore new worlds or activities using the technology.

Chief Investigator Professor Evonne Miller said the Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality (VR) project was a collaboration between researchers from QUT, Griffith University, the University of Melbourne and La Trobe. It was funded by a philanthropic research grant from Facebook.

“COVID-19 has been especially hard on people in aged care. One way to improve their lives is to use technology like virtual and augmented reality, which allows them to leave the four walls of their home,” said Professor Miller.

“We integrated VR technologies into three Australian aged care facilities to find ways of better socially connecting residents with each other, staff and their families during this pandemic; and to provide older aged care residents with creative, novel and intellectually-stimulating leisure activities – ensuring daily life is exciting, rather than mundane and monotonous.

“VR can take them back to their honeymoon, let them reconnect to something important from their past or travel to a country they always wanted to visit. They can sky-dive, ride a gondola through Venice, sail a yacht and so much more. The possibilities are limitless and overcome mobility and health problems.”

Professor Miller said the project had produced a Transformational Toolkit which was being launched tomorrow (25 May) as part of The Big Reach, presented at QUT by The Big Anxiety Qld.

The three-hour workshop What I Know Now That Can Change The World (Looking Back, Looking Forward) is on in the QUT Gardens Theatre from 2pm-5pm and members of the public are welcome.

Along with the toolkit launch, a monologue play will be presented. Written by Caleb Lewis from QUT’s School of Creative Practice, Dolphin Song features a young carer called Eddie who tells of his experience in helping a dying woman in aged care realise her dream to swim with dolphins by visiting a local pool with VR goggles.

Leonie Sanderson, a visiting fellow with the QUT School of Design and director of Brisbane-based The Ageing Revolution, was VR Project Manager for Transforming Aged Care with Virtual Reality (VR).

She said the Transformational Toolkit was now freely available online and outlined how to implement VR into aged care. It includes advice on cost of headsets, how to get started, where to find apps, safety assessments and physical space requirements.

“It can cost as little as $600 to get the right VR headsets with storage cases and adjustable head straps. We recommend aged care facilities set themselves up with at least two or more headsets so multiple residents can enjoy the experience at the same time,” said Ms Sanderson.

“To integrate VR into aged care needs support from senior management and a staff champion but it is very doable, and the effort is worth the investment of time and money. Our trials produced levels of happiness and resulted in stories being shared and people feeling more valued and engaged,” she said.

One activities manager involved in the trial said: “​I ran a session all by myself and it was a bit hard but still could manage to take Heather to Alaska, Keith on a helicopter and Rita to Africa. It was a short session, but I had 5 residents that attended. New people want to give it a go, so I think it’s going well!”

More information on the project, including videos, is available online.

Professor Miller is also presenting a workshop on Day 2 (Friday 27 May) of The Big Reach – a ‘design sprint’ on systems change for improving mental health and suicide prevent in regional and rural areas. QUT Drama Professor Sandra Gattenhof is also part of a workshop that day – Thriving Regional Communities and Crisis.

For more information on The Big Reach, and to book into events, visit The Big Reach – The Big Anxiety.