VR Used To Help Hospice Patients See The World

Gone are the days when virtual reality (VR) was seen purely as a gaming tool with few other applications. There are dozens of ways in which to use this technology, with many people coming up with ever more creative ways to utilise VR to help a host of people.

The Edinburgh Evening News recently reported on how the technology is being used in a hospice to help patients who are receiving palliative care.

In a trial scheme, six patients at St Columba Hospice in Edinburgh were given the opportunity to travel using VR. They could choose to visit a place that they had been before, or to go somewhere entirely new.

It’s a fascinating way of using travel VR services to deliver tangible benefits to people. The Interactive Initiative, which is the project being run by a university, will assess the impact of offering travel VR experiences to hospice patients. Researchers will look at how it affects people’s mood, stress levels, pain and wellbeing.

One resident of the hospice chose to go to Jerusalem, a place they had always planned to visit.

Meanwhile, a 101-year-old resident at the hospice decided to take one ‘trip’ to Darjeeling to revisit her childhood home, as well as another to go on a ‘journey’ along the Amazon River.

According to the news provider, the experience “triggered happy memories with the opportunity to reminisce about old times, as well as enjoying encountering new places”.

Dr Erna Haraldsdottir, director of education and research at St Columba Hospice, told the newspaper that residents found the experience “liberating and exciting”, whether they were going back to a place associated with fond memories or revisiting an activity they once found exhilarating.

She also stressed the importance of researching how this impacts patients’ mental and physical health, given that there is “little evidence of VR being used in palliative care with no published research which identifies its potential”.

Dr Haraldsdottir commented: “We are particularly keen to learn if VR sessions have the potential to alleviate symptoms in patients receiving palliative care, such as pain and anxiety.”

Five of the six patients who were involved in the pilot scheme described the experience as positive. One said that she became upset when she realised she would never be able to visit her favourite place again, although added that it had helped her come to terms with her situation.

This isn’t the only example of VR being used as a therapy to help improve people’s mental wellbeing. The Big Issue recently reported on a project being led by Daniel Freeman at Oxford VR, whereby the technology is being used to help people cope with mental health problems.

He explained that there are a number of ways in which VR can be utilised in the field of mental health care. His company is pioneering the use of virtual therapists and one area where they’ve seen particularly positive results is in helping people to confront their fears.

Mr Freeman said that because you know you’re in a virtual environment, even though all of your senses are telling you there’s a perceived danger, you’re able to act differently than you normally would when faced with your fear. Behaviour changes in the VR setting can then be transferred to the real world.

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