Smartphones and other devices keep us ever connected to the rest of the world; but recovering, disabled and seriously ill patients often find themselves stuck indoors, and longing for a change of scenery.
Aiming to give terminally ill patients a chance to absorb themselves in familiar experiences, Loros Hospice in Leicester commissioned and produced a special film with a VR production company, which has been warmly received by patients.
By putting on the VR goggles, patients are “virtually transported” to a different location that they recognise. Research suggests that our brains take as little as 20 seconds to accept VR as reality.
John Lee, 70, a patient with motor neurone disease, was the first at the hospice to try on the new goggles. He experienced walking through a simulation of Bradgate Park in Leicester, which he described as “almost as good as the real thing”. As the patient turns their head, the camera follows, giving a 360-degree view of their virtual surroundings.
“You soon relax, it’s just like you’re there, I loved it,” he said. “I nearly waved at somebody, as they walked past.”
“Since being diagnosed with MND, we can get out, but I can’t spend a lot of time out of the wheelchair, so being able to have these experiences through the glasses is really good,” he added.
VR experiences have been long discussed as a helpful new therapeutic tool for terminally ill patients, as it allows them to absorb themselves a familiar but inaccessible environment.
“We recognise that some of our patients are often restricted to where they can go due to their illness, so we wanted to help give them the opportunity to still enjoy life wider than their restrictions allow, through virtual reality,” said hospice CEO John Knight.
Loros is planning to commission further films – such as walking on the beach – to create a portfolio of VR experiences for its patients. Managers hope that other hospices and care providers will be able to benefit from these films.
VR is increasingly being integrated into conventional psychological and occupational therapy. This has been shown to be particularly effective as a component of exposure therapy for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, using simulations of fear-inducing stimuli to gradually build up resilience.