Exploring the promenades of the south coast from the comfort of an Oxfordshire care home
Care home residents in Oxfordshire have been experiencing the wonders of virtual reality (VR) in a trial designed to see if using the technology can improve the health and wellbeing of older people with limited mobility.
Oxfordshire County Council’s dedicated Innovation Hub (iHUB) has worked with Oxford based tech start-up company ROVR Systems Ltd and staff and residents at two care homes in Oxfordshire, to develop the technology which has seen some participants walking virtual distances of up to 3km per session from the comfort of their armchair.
Councillor Tim Bearder, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “Innovation is a key part of how we are transforming the way we deliver adult social care in Oxfordshire. By using modern technology, we can enable people to live well, making their lives richer and more fulfilling. All told it presents a range of exciting new opportunities for Oxfordshire residents to take part in.”
The 17 month trial was funded by a £350,000 Innovate UK grant and involved residents at Fairfield Residential Home in Summertown and Auditcare’s Mon Choisy care home in Kennington, as well as assisted living sites in Cornwall.
VR headsets were connected to specialist seated treadmills allowing the user to move their feet while sitting in a chair. For those with greater mobility, there was an option for a more active exploration by using a safety-enhanced standing treadmill.
An image was then projected onto the screen in the visor, giving the user the chance to explore a variety of areas of the UK and abroad, meeting other users taking a similar virtual journey. Care workers could also join the walk on a digital tablet, giving them the chance to have conversations along the way.
The main objective of the trial was to promote social engagement among people with restricted mobility. It aimed to help those whose physical activity had decreased, leading to deconditioning, reduced mental stimulation and fewer social interactions.
The trial results showed residents walked distances of between 300m and 3km per session and enjoyed seated immersive experiences for up to 40 minutes, where they were normally only registering in the tens to a few hundred steps per day.
Independent observers found residents competed with themselves to walk further than their last effort and were even more competitive when walking with others. User feedback also showed participants felt a strong sense of achievement when told how far they had explored.
Maddie Gillies works at Fairfield Residential Home and supported residents who took part in the trial. She said: “Watching our residents using the VR for the first time was fantastic. Once they were used to the technology, they really relaxed into it and spent some considerable time walking around their virtual worlds. It was the perfect way to help residents move more freely, meeting other people and sparking conversations about places they had visited in their life.”
Having completed an evaluation of the initial trial, ROVR Systems Ltd now hope to use the technology to help benefit people with limited mobility up and down the country.
Charles King, ROVR Systems Ltd Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our partnership with Oxfordshire County Council has given us the opportunity to trial our virtual reality technology in a real life environment and the results have been beyond our expectations.
“We have seen our VR technologies expand the horizons of people whose worlds have shrunk, providing safe opportunities for social connections, learning and unwitting exercise. These wonderful experiences enhance their lives and further build caring relationships with the fantastic staff.
“We have witnessed glimpses of the real person where advanced dementia otherwise hides these interesting people, and seen new connections and insights for caring staff with people who usually don’t engage in activities.
“Described by one staff member as ‘miraculous’, our VR technologies are magical motivators of social connections and movement, and we continue to work with the county council, social care and the NHS to assist people in living longer, better."
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