VR allows people with limited mobility to enjoy a walk with friends

15th May 2023
Sheryl Miles

Virtual reality (VR) technology is being trialled in Oxford care homes in an effort to improve the mental wellbeing of residents.

In bringing together VR headsets, chairs, and seated treadmills, the 17-month trial is allowing 40 people residents to walk both physically and virtually at distances of up to 1.8 miles. And along the way, they can explore real locations and meet up with other people also taking a similar virtual journey.

The objective of the trial is designed to explore if using technology can be implemented to improve the health and wellbeing of older people with limited mobility.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Innovation Hub (iHub) has been working with the startup company ROVR Systems Ltd to bring this endeavour to two care homes in Oxfordshire.

Talking to Oxfordshire County Council, Councillor Tim Bearder, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, commented: “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.”

Residents were able to move their feet whilst remaining seated in chairs, however, for anyone whose mobility was greater, there was an additional option of standing on a safety-enhanced treadmill.

By integrating digital tablets, care workers were also able to join in and have conversations along the walk.

In using technology in this way, the feedback from residents has been positive, with them stating that they felt a strong sense of achievement when they learnt how far they had walked.

Maddie Gillies who works at one of the participating care homes, Fairfield Residential Home, and supported residents who took part in the trial, commented to Oxfordshire County Council: “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.”

Commenting to the BBC, DeeDee Wallace, Innovation Hub, said: “It brings the world into them, making their world bigger – and if you think about dementia, they can access neighbours and unlock memories by having a VR experience."

With people living longer, mobility becomes a challenge. However, with staffing shortages in the NHS and social care sectors, simply getting people with limited mobility out could pose a risk to people’s mental health. So, with the introduction of VR into care homes, technology can have a positive effect on not only people’s mental wellbeing, but also on their physical health.

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