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Virtual Reality for Seniors Program


Virtual Reality for Seniors Program

Summary

A virtual reality (VR) experience provided older adults and people living with dementia & their carers an opportunity for social connection and learning. Funded by a WA Department of Communities Age-friendly Communities grant, this project aimed to provide seniors and people living with dementia access to positive experiences, social connection and engagement with this new technology.

Research and anecdotal evidence shows that VR can deliver a positive impact on mood, reduce levels of anxiety and depression, increase socialisation, and improve motor and cognitive skills as well as memory recollection. We partnered with local care agency Community Vision, who provided the VR equipment and session facilitator. Trained City volunteers and staff assisted with sessions and evaluated impact. The Clarkson Library provided a safe, comfortable and accessible venue.

84 participants took part across 21 sessions. Specific VR experiences could be requested and participants had a variety of VR experiences based on their preferred content, e.g. current/historical travel experiences (e.g. Japan, Victoria Falls, Ancient Rome), animal interactions (e.g. swimming with dolphins), activities like skydiving or hot air ballooning, games (e.g. bubble popping), and tours (e.g. cathedrals, galleries, the Guinness factory).

Morning tea followed each session, providing an opportunity for participants to connect socially. All participants reported a positive impact on mood and great delight with the experience. Lessons learned included the need to have a backup for participants who are uncomfortable with the headsets e.g. cast the VR to a television screen. Our evaluation found strong application, benefit and interest from older residents and the City is keen to find ways to continue this offering.

Key facts

Main target group: Older people in general

Other target group(s): People living with dementia and their carers

Sector(s): Health

Desired outcome for older people:
Build and maintain relationships

Other issues the Age-friendly practice aims to address:
  • Ageing in place
  • Dementia
  • Inclusion
  • Participation
  • Technologies

Contact details

Name: Alison Leitch

Email address: communitydevelopment@wanneroo.wa.gov.au


Age-friendly practice in detail (click to expand):

Engaging the wider community

Project lead: Local authorities

Others involved in the project:
  • Civil Society Organisation
  • Volunteers
  • Private sector

How collaboration worked: The project was led by the City of Wanneroo with grant funding contributed from the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Communities, Age-friendly Communities Social Connectivity Grants Program. The project was managed by the City of Wanneroo’s Community Development team with a high level of input and collaboration from the City’s Library Services team, particularly the staff at the Clarkson Library. Other parties that were actively involved were Community Vision (local not-for-profit aged care agency) who provided the Rendever virtual reality equipment and facilitator; Rendever who provided the media kit for promotion of the Virtual Reality Project; and Dementia Australia and Alzheimer’s Western Australia for provision of advice on making the VR sessions dementia-friendly.

Older people’s involvement: Older people were involved in the age-friendly practice at multiple or all stages

Details on older people’s involvement: Rehearsal sessions were held with community volunteers and librarians. Feedback from the rehearsals helped inform the project implementation – session runtimes, the VR programming and the physical layout of the activity (seating positions, etc.) were designed to maximise the participant experience. Aged care facilities were consulted in regards to suitable programming hours for the VR sessions.

Moving forward

Has the impact of this age-friendly practice been analysed: Yes

Was the impact positive or negative:
Positive

Please share with us what you found in detail:
All participants reported a positive impact on mood. Participants reported recalling old memories triggered by their VR experience, especially in relation to past holidays taken. This resulted in a positive mood change for those participants. Participants’ attitude to the VR technology visibly changed as the sessions progressed, with some reporting a positive change in attitude towards new technologies. Participants commonly spoke of a lack of activities and social opportunities for older people in the community. The VR program addressed both these concerns, with participants expressing gratitude for the opportunity to undertake a new activity, enjoy an opportunity to socialise post-session, and experience a new technology. A change in participants’ mindset in regards to the abovementioned barriers was the most significant change experienced in the community in relation to this project.

Evaluation report: Project-Review-and-Evaluation-Clarkson-Library-Virtual-Reality-for-Seniors-August-2021.pdf

Feedback:
Feedback was collected via participant feedback forms and through conversation. A series of post-session videos with participants provided additional material. Virtual reality session participants expressed gratitude for the program, as they felt there was a lack of activities in the local community suited for their age group. Participant feedback forms indicated that seniors would embrace the continuation of the VR sessions at Clarkson Library. There was also an appetite for “repeat business”, with many participants choosing to book in for a second session. Overall, participants reported high satisfaction levels for the sessions. Many felt it exceeded their expectations and all left saying that they would do it again and would recommend it to others.

Expansion plans:
The age-friendly aspect of both the VR experience and the VR equipment makes this project feasible for the future. The number of participants requesting to attend future sessions demonstrated the appetite among the community for an ongoing virtual reality project. Furthermore, the user-friendly technology requires minimal staff resources, making the project sustainable going forward. The City is currently investigating options for an ongoing virtual reality offering for older residents including through a continued arrangement with Community Vision. The project has also generated interest and enquiries from two other local governments in Perth, Western Australia (the Cities of Rockingham and Cockburn) who are looking into providing a similar offering, as well as from the WA Department of Health, North Metro Health Service who were seeking advice as they are investigating delivery of a VR service at Sir Charles Gardner Hospital for children and patients living with dementia.

Looking back

Reflections:
The project catered to people from a multicultural background and a broad range of ages and abilities were considered, ensuring the experience was accessible and inclusive. While dementia specific sessions were initially planned, these were not booked as solidly as general sessions and it was decided to combine them and make all sessions dementia-friendly with private spaces for people with dementia to participate. As this technology is expensive, we developed a partnership with local care agency Community Vision who have purchased the equipment and were able to rent it to the City together with providing a facilitator. Supporting the facilitator role with two trained City volunteers worked well and provided volunteering opportunities to two older Wanneroo citizens. Volunteers were educated on the virtual reality equipment, the running of the sessions, and on how to cater to older people and people living with dementia. We would recommend also getting a demonstration from the software vendor (Rendever in this case) for all facilitators and assistants as technical knowledge of the system is important together with strong people skills and ability to work with older people and those living with dementia. The virtual reality experiences on offer provided an opportunity for older people to experience activities and destinations that might have been inaccessible for reasons relating to health, mobility, finances, COVID etc. This opportunity to have new experiences and recall old memories resulted in an improved mood for many participants. The communal nature of the sessions provided an opportunity for participants to reduce their social isolation. We recommend ensuring that VR sessions are held in a safe and comfortable environment, and that dementia-specific sessions take place in private spaces. Seating arrangements need to suit older people with mobility issues so that all participants can enjoy a comfortable virtual reality experience. In the future we will look at providing couple’s sessions as this was a popular activity for couples.

Challenges:
The majority of the VR sessions ran seamlessly. However, in some cases people living with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease appeared confused and unable to wear the headset. In such a scenario, the participant’s carer or partner would assist to the best of their ability, but there was still instances whereby a participant was not comfortable wearing the headset. The City resolved this issue by casting the VR experience to a Smartboard television. This allowed participants living with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease to watch the experience without wearing the virtual reality headset. Lack of transportation for people in aged care facilities was also a minor issue. As this was a rare occurrence, the City was able to provide a bus collection on the occasions this did occur .We did experience a City-wide lockdown due to COVID during the project which necessitated a halt and period of rebooking but this was well managed. While we would like to provide ongoing VR participation for older people, the expensive cost of purchasing or renting the VR equipment is a challenge to the continuation of the program. Ways around this are currently being explored.

Age-Friendly World