Hamilton aged care residents enjoyed a visit to Mount Everest Base Camp, the Sistine Chapel and the Taj Mahal last week, all part of a groundbreaking new virtual reality program hosted by the Red Cross.
Lambton’s Red Cross Community Programs Officer, Katrina Butterworth, said the program’s objective was to put smiles on faces.
“The residents saw some of the most remarkable sights worldwide, from famous landmarks to stunning natural wonders, and they even met a few friends along the way,” Butterworth said.
“For those residents who are lacking connection, we want to provide a purposeful and meaningful activity where a shared experience will enhance memories and open up communication.”
The Australian Government invested one-off extra funding into the Red Cross Community Visitors Scheme (CVS) for Auspices to build their programs and creatively engage with more people.
“Australian Red Cross decided that virtual reality (VR) designed specifically for seniors would be a fabulous tool to create a fun experience, invigorate memories and foster connection with residents,” Butterworth said.
The SILVR VR tours and adventures are specially designed for older adults and include virtual tours of historic and culturally significant moments from the 20th century.
Guided tours of travel destinations can be chosen from the Adventures Library to match residents’ past experiences and invigorate happy memories.
From exploring the Natural Wonders of the World to touring the MCG, the VR experience provides meaningful and memorable experiences that will spark joy for residents.
Pilot program major success
The pilot session, which was the first local opportunity for volunteers and three participating residents, brought a plethora of benefits to the group.
“Charles, Dianne and James bravely took their seats, not having experienced virtual reality beyond a 3D movie,” Uniting Lindsay Gardens’ Leisure and Wellness Coordinator, Tathra Witherow, said.
“The VR experience enabled participants to engage in an immersive adventure that took them across Europe.
“It was a visual feast for the eyes, coupled with an informative commentary. They have all said they would love to have another adventure soon.”
She added that tailoring the tour to each individual resident created a meaningful experience.
“Charlie was confronted by a cow in the Swiss Alps … he spoke about the magnificent tulips in Holland during the VR journey, comparing these to his own memories of tulip fields in Tasmania,” Witherowat said.
One participant said the activity was “wonderful”, while another said it “brought back memories”.
Benefits that outlast the VR experience
Once the VR tour is over, residents are brought back to ‘Reali-Tea’ and are encouraged to engage in conversation about the experience over a cuppa.
They discuss where they went, what they saw and most importantly, reminisce about memories related to their own past travels and experiences.
It’s these conversations and stories that the Red Cross say enrich interactions and foster meaningful engagement, facilitating social connection that is fundamental to physical and mental health.
Studies suggest that seniors are more vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation than any other age group, and living in a residential aged care facility often contributes to these feelings.
The VR experience forms part of the CVS, which benefits socially isolated residents, improving their quality of life through one-on-one companionship or participation in an activity that Red Cross volunteers facilitate.
Butterworth said exciting things were coming for the program.
“It’s very new for the Red Cross, and we are excited by the possibilities … we want to partner with more aged care facilities to broaden our reach to more residents,” Butterworth said.
“Ongoing, we will have up to five residents take a tour together at one time and offer two session sittings, so 10 residents can take part throughout our visit.
“Ideally, with the help of more volunteers, we can offer this as an ongoing monthly program and bring a world of adventure to the residents.”
The Red Cross is hoping to build its VR volunteer team to grow the program and provide multiple sessions throughout the week.
Butterworth said if community members were interested in becoming volunteers, they should visit the Red Cross website.